Scotland's home reading initiative is stepping up a gear as the number of reading champions swells and the fund for starting schemes trebles, writes Karen Shead
What do J. K. Rowling, Kirsty Wark, Richard Wilson and Sandy Lyle all have in common? They are reading champions and support the Read Together campaign, which especially encourages parents and carers to share books with children.
They are not the only ones. Reading champions do not have to be excellent readers, nor do they have to be famous, and age is irrelevant.
Last week eight young people across Scotland were given the title, adding to the rapidly growing number of champions who support reading.
The three-year home reading initiative was launched by the Scottish Executive in 2002. The initial stage was aimed at youngsters up to age eight and encouraged parents to be interested in their child's reading and reading together. Now the campaign is opening up to older children.
At its heart is a website (www. readtogether.co.uk) which aims to appeal to children and adults. It gives information about the campaign and recommends books.
"We try to develop the website all the time," says Kathryn Ross, who with Lindsey Fraser co-ordinates the Read Together initiative. "It's just had a big overhaul. There is more animation to liven it up, there is a voice-over so that some of the information sections are read out and there is a video of people talking about their experiences of reading.
"The website is a support for what teachers are doing in schools," she explains, "but we hope it will also give them one or two new ideas. The books we recommend are updated frequently; we add three books in each category regularly."
An important part of the campaign is a grants scheme for starting sustainable projects that encourage home reading. Last year pound;330,000 was shared out among 450 schools, nurseries, libraries and youth groups.
This year the funding has increased to pound;1 million because of the high number of quality applications.
The Education Minister, Peter Peacock, says: "The small grants scheme shows that it doesn't take huge sums of cash to make a difference, for instance, by setting up a small library to make books accessible. The scheme has been massively oversubscribed and that's why I have decided to increase the amount available this year to ensure as many groups and communities can benefit, both now and in years to come."
Hanover Street Primary in Aberdeen used the grant of pound;2,500 that it received last year to set up a variety of initiatives. As well as inviting in reading champions, the school has introduced reading buddies (whereby older pupils pair up with younger ones to read with them), reading records and awards of bronze certificates for reading 10 books and silver for 20, and storytelling sessions with authors invited to the school.
"We took the idea of reading champions from the Read Together website and adapted it to suit our school," says depute headteacher Jenny Watson. "We invited 100 people - from the Lord Provost of the city to Neil Simpson of Aberdeen Football Club - to come into the school to read to the children.
They have been coming in since October and have brought a wide range of literature, from novels to recipes, maps and timetables. It's been fantastic. It's been a series of positive role models for the children. All of the reading champions have had their photo taken and put on the wall. It is a growing gallery."
The school has organised trips to the library too. "It's something which a lot of people take for granted, but there are a lot of parents out there who don't do that," says Mrs Watson. The pupils have had regular sessions at the library with parents and this has encouraged parents to go to the library themselves. "It has certainly been a motivation for the children," says Mrs Watson.
The school also plans to introduce a community reading bus.
Headteacher Helen Maitland says: "It has been a hugely successful initiative. Our main focus was to foster love of reading and we have fulfilled our aims. It has also improved our links with the local community."
"The grant scheme has been an enormous part of the initiative," says Ms Ross. "It helps community groups and schools to set up home reading initiatives which hopefully will be sustainable. Nobody gets huge amounts of money, but it is enough to make a difference.
"We are encouraging parents and children to read together, to enjoy reading together and to have the confidence to do it," she adds. "It's not rocket science."
To contact Read Together co-ordinators Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross, of Fraser Ross Associates, email