In March last year I received a three-book deal from Poolbeg Press and my debut children's novel The Ghosts of Magnificent Children was published in October. As I was putting the finishing touches to my book launch speech, in a bustling cafe in Enniscorthy, I received a phone call that utterly changed my life.
I finished my coffee, picked up my pen and wrote for the next two hours. My mind was no longer consumed with my impending book launch, or the opening lines of my next novel.
I had just been awarded the role of “Reader in Residence” with Wexford Public Library Services. So instead I wrote an in-depth literacy plan that I believed would help to raise literacy levels and encourage reading for pleasure among children and young people in Co Wexford.
In order for children's literacy levels to improve, books need to be central to their lives
For the next 10 months I had the opportunity to work alongside dedicated and hardworking librarians in five libraries across Wexford and to engage with schools and the community in a way that would have a positive impact on children’s literacy. This was my chance to make a real impact on children and young people’s lives and I was determined to do just that.
I realise that in order for children’s literacy levels to improve, books need to be central to their lives. I had no doubt that books changed my life. I wouldn’t be an author today if it wasn’t for the adults who introduced me to books at a young age. I wanted to encourage children to read, as others had encouraged me.
Research has proven that a child’s ability to read has more impact on a child’s future attainment than parental wealth, education and employment. Encouraging a child to read for pleasure is one of the most powerful ways to support a child’s future success and involving parents in their children’s literacy is vital.
My 10 months as Reader in Residence has come to an end. As I reflect upon everything that the programme achieved, I am so proud that the programme had a direct impact on 4,000 children, teenagers, parents and teachers. From feedback received I am certain that our goal of encouraging children to read for pleasure in the county has been exceeded.
Wexford Public Library Services are incredibly fortunate to have Eileen Morrissey as their County Librarian. I attended regular meetings with Eileen and Hazel Percival, the senior executive librarian, and I was encouraged and supported in my role by director of services John Carley each and every step of the way.
Many of the children came from disadvantaged backgrounds and marginalised groups
In order for the programme to be a success, I had to hit the ground running. Therefore, I curated three festivals aimed at children and young people in the five libraries and involved some of Ireland’s leading authors and illustrators. Eight hundred people came to our family day in February in Wexford Library.
The programme encouraged young people and families from disadvantaged backgrounds to read for pleasure and to promote a positive attitude towards reading. Over six weeks I met groups of children from a DEIS school on a weekly basis. There were various barriers to literacy. Many of the children came from disadvantaged backgrounds and marginalised groups. A vast majority of the children did not have English as a first language.
The aim was to empower parents as the first educators of their children
An important element of this programme was to empower the students and to treat them as individuals. With such a diverse group it was essential that the individual needs of each of the children were met. After six weeks, the teacher saw a vast improvement in their literacy levels and the children continue to visit their library.
A similar programme was implemented for “future readers”. The aim was to empower parents as the first educators of their children and to understand the importance of books in their children’s overall development.
During the residency I received countless e-mails from parents and teachers who saw the direct impact that the “Reader in Residence” Programme had on children’s lives. One e-mail in particular moved me to tears. It came from a women whose grandson has severe dyslexia and had never voluntarily read a book before. However, after a visit to his school, he went to a bookshop and bought a copy of my book and he is now a member of his local library. His family has described it as a “major miracle”. This is exactly what the “Reader in Residence” Programme is about. To hear a personal story of how the programme impacted directly on a child’s life, and specifically a child with a learning difficulty, who struggles with the written word on a daily basis, is phenomenal. It makes it all worthwhile.
- Caroline Busher is the author of The Ghosts of Magnificent Children (Poolbeg Press) Her second novel, The Girl Who Ate The Stars, is due to be released in October. She is vice-chair of Wexford Literary Festival