If you were going to give an extra special Valentine this year what would it be? This year, I'm not going to send cards, flowers or cute teddy bears to anyone, even if I do love them. Instead I'm giving gifts to people I don't know and might never meet, and my heart feels full just thinking about it.
On 14th February I'm going to leave kid's books, wrapped up in shiny paper, in places where any child could pick them up: doctor's waiting rooms, cafes, or even a bus stop, to celebrate Book Giving Day.
I love the idea that a child will feel that fizzy excitement as they unwrap the present, and understand that a book is a very special present to get. In my daydreams, at least one of those kids will get excited about one of my books, and want to read it again and again. I can imagine them nagging their parents to take them to the library for another book. And another. And you'd have a little bookworm.
Picture credit Ruth Duncan
Book Giving Day is all about getting books into the hands of as many children as possible, and sharing a love of books. Sadly, the book a child picks up on Book Giving Day might just be the first book they have ever received. Nearly a third of school kids in the UK do not have a book of their own at home, and 1 in 8 have never been given a book as a present.
It's not surprising that research from the National Literacy Trust shows that the kids who do own a book or two are more likely to read more, and to really love reading. Owning a book is powerful stuff.
The beauty of Book Giving Day is its simplicity. It is organised completely by volunteers around the world who wanted to share the happiness that diving into a book can bring. Anyone can get involved. If you've got a few kid's books to spare, you could give them to the neighbours' children, a playgroup or a hospital waiting room.
Picture credit: Marianne Dubuc, International Book Giving Day www.mariannedubuc.com
I'm going to leave my little book Valentines around our local area in Walthamstow, East London, and label them with a special bookmark created by the organisers of Book Giving Day. so it's abundantly clear that the book is a gift.
Spreading the joy of reading can make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but it's crucial to the life chances of disadvantaged kids. By the age of four, children from lower income families will hear 30 million fewer words than their peers from middle and higher income families, which impacts on their academic achievements. Being able to read the reading books at school is great, but kids have to discover the joy of reading to unlock success in life. Enjoyment of reading is key to confidence and being receptive to learning.
One of the initiatives we're involved in all year is supporting literacy charity Beanstalk. With every sale of one of our kid's bookcases, Tidy Books donates a percentage to help Beanstalk open up the world of books to children. Beanstalk places volunteers in primary schools to read one to one with children who have fallen behind with their reading.
A weekly session with a Beanstalk reading helper gives a reluctant or struggling reader the chance to choose what they read or play a game. In short, a little attention, restores a child's confidence and puts the magic of reading back in their hands.
Of course giving out books is nothing new. I've given out books for World Book Night to bemused strangers on a cold Spring evening, but I've been happy because I was able to share a book that I loved (Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance) to someone that might not have otherwise come across it. This year's World Book Night is on 23rd April, and they're still looking for volunteers
I can't wait for Valentine's Day this year. If I can ignite just one child's enjoyment of turning the pages of a book and exploring the world inside a book, then I've spread some lasting love.
You can get involved too. Find out more at Book Giving Day or simply wrap up a new or good condition book, pop on a label and leave it for a child to find. Who knows where that book could lead?