NEWS INDEPTH

Celebrating Book Week Scotland

Scotland's first ever Book Week starts today, Monday 26th of November, and along with a host of national partners, Scottish Book Trust has pulled together a huge and diverse programme of events and initiatives aimed at celebrating reading, writers, and books.

Marc Lambert, CEO of Scottish Book Trust, tells us why he believes this week is so important.

"Over 350 free events are taking place in every corner of the country, from Shetland to Galloway, and from the Hebrides to the Tay.

Libraries, workplaces, care homes, gardens, prisons, a variety of community and charity organisations, as well as institutions like the National Museum of Scotland, Dundee Contemporary Arts, VisitScotland and the Scottish Trades Union Council are all taking part.

In addition, 390,000 free books will be given away to Scots of all ages. And that's just the start of what is a multifaceted programme.

Much of the programme is concerned with children and families. It's important that children and young people understand what books can do for them, and that parents understand that fostering a love of reading is one of the easiest and most beneficial things they can do for their loved ones. The gains are personal, social, educational and familial, since there is nothing lovelier than sharing stories as a family.

The evidence of benefit is overwhelming. For instance, a recent academic study conducted over 26 countries demonstrates that having books in the home equips children with as much as three years extra education by the time they start school. And it is particularly significant that this is true for all children, regardless of socio-economic background.

Books level the playing field. While we may never live in societies which are economically equal, we can at least provide equal access to books and their benefits.

That is why libraries are so important, and why bookgifting initiatives like Bookstart, and our own equivalent in Scotland - Bookbug - are so vital. And it is also why, during Book Week Scotland, each and every child who has started primary school this year - some 60,000 wee souls - is being gifted a family reading pack with four high quality books, and a host of family activities based on those books.

Three of the books are nominated in the Bookbug category for our Scottish Children's Book Awards, which are entirely determined by children voting for their favourite title. So families can read together, discuss, and their child can then place their vote validating them as readers with opinions that really count.

In her wonderful book on reading, Proust and the Squid, Maryanne Wolf writes: "We were never born to read ... Human beings invented reading only a few thousand years ago. And with this invention, we changed the very organisation of our brain, which in turn expanded the ways we were able to think, which altered the intellectual evolution of our species."

But parents who privilege reading in the home are doing more than just helping to make their children smarter. Exposure to and enjoyment of stories and images, especially at a young age, is absolutely vital to the development of a child's social and emotional intelligence.

It takes a number of years, from birth, for a child to develop what psychologists call a 'theory of mind'. This is the realisation that what is going on in someone else's head is not necessarily what is going on in yours. Other people's private thoughts and emotions can remain inaccessible to us. But as we grow and develop a theory of mind, we come to understand that by using skills of intuition and empathy, we can do a pretty good job in 'reading' others, by imagining what they might be experiencing. Some children, who suffer from a psychological condition we call autism, are usually not able to make this imaginative leap, and as a result they can find being with others very difficult.

Nevertheless, exposure to books, images and stories at an early age plays a vital part in helping the vast majority of children develop and hone these most important social skills. Through stories, and the situations and characters they dramatise, children learn to put themselves in the shoes of others, experiencing vicariously and safely whatever circumstance or dilemma is being played out in front of them. Those thoughts and emotions can then be discussed or commented upon by child and parent, leading to strong bonding, enjoyment and learning.

But we all benefit throughout the length of our lives from the social and emotional intelligence that books offer. Fiction is full of social information. It is where you can inform yourself about other people and how they might think, feel, reason and behave in particular situations. Put simply, fiction offers us case-studies in human behaviour, which is why the greatest writers seem to be able to get under the skin of their characters to such an extent that we, as readers, live as one with them for the duration of the book, and indeed long after the last page is turned.

Such is the magic alchemy books perform. Book Week Scotland is all about reaching out to people of all ages with this profoundly life-affirming and beneficial message. Read to enjoy. Read to learn. Read to grow and live, and live better."

26/11/2012Celebrating Book Week Scotland
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