Christmas Brings Gift of Reading to Children of St Mary's Primary

The Evening Standard (London, England), December 16, 2011 | Go to article overview

Christmas Brings Gift of Reading to Children of St Mary's Primary


Byline: David Cohen

SANTA came early this week for the 165 pupils of St Mary's Primary in Battersea. Addressing a buzzing assembly, headteacher Jared Brading pointed to five large boxes placed under the tree and asked: "What do you want for Christmas?" Hands shot up. "iPod Nano," yelled one, "Nintendo 3DS," replied another. But a surprising number plumped for "books", with "Roald Dahl", "science books" and former children's laureate Michael Morpurgo among the favourites.

Mr Brading, whose school has been adopted by our Get London Reading campaign, said: "I don't want you to be like the children in the rest of the country, where one in three do not have books of their own."

He was referring to a recent survey confirming the revelations published at the start of our literacy campaign. Back in June, the idea that one in three did not own a book seemed incredible, but a National Literacy Trust poll (see panel top right) bears out the shocking scale of the literacy crisis. "We want to make sure you all leave St Mary's brilliant readers," Mr Brading added, "and thanks to the Evening Standard we have a wonderful surprise for each of you."

Within minutes, the boxes were being ripped apart, each child emerging smiling and triumphant and holding aloft a gift-wrapped book of their own.

For the 80 older children, it was a beautiful [pounds sterling]10.99 hardback edition of Roald Dahl's The BFG or Alice In Wonderland, generously donated by Everyman publisher David Campbell. For the under-sevens, it was Michael Morpurgo's Meet Wenlock And Mandeville, a book about two imaginary characters who get involved in the London Olympics and donated by parenting website Daddybegood.com and Carlton Books.

Ten copies had been signed by Engis land cricketer Andrew Flintoff. The bonanza for St Mary's came as former Prime Minister Sir John Major, who grew up near the school, threw his weight behind our campaign. "I spent my youth in south London and the Minet Library in Brixton made it possible for me to explore a wider world than I could barely imagine - let alone dream I would ever see," he said. "The gift of reading life-enhancing. It opens the mind and without it, education suffers, employment suffers, society suffers.

"It is now many years since I sat in that Brixton library, devouring every book I could muster and I honestly cannot imagine a life without books. Illiteracy is a curse and its prevalence shaming. Reading is one of the purest, most absorbing pleasures which -- thanks to the Standard's Get London Reading campaign -- will hopefully be discovered and embraced by a whole new generation of Londoners."

Yesterday our award-winning campaign passed the [pounds sterling]420,000 mark with a [pounds sterling]3,000 donation from The CIBC Children's Foundation, which declared its support for "your mission to raise the quality of life for children, prepare them for future success, encourage volunteerism and foster community involvement".

It will fund more than 650 reading volunteers and support approximately 2,000 children in more than 150 primary schools across London. The total raised includes [pounds sterling]100,000 from Ukrainian billionaire Kostyantin Zhevago that has been ring-fenced for St Mary's, where half the children are failing, and where 85 reading volunteers will be sent in to raise standards over three years. …

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