Did the children of Scotland catch the reading bug?

Three primary school children carrying book bags stand outside their school

Rebecca Rees reports on a study into the impacts of Scottish Book Trust’s book-gifting programmes Bookbug and Read, Write, Count

We all know that children catch every bug going at nursery and school. But Scottish Book Trust (SBT) are keen to know whether children in Scotland caught one particular bug: the reading bug.

SBT’s Book Gifting Impact Study explores the impacts that their two universal book-gifting interventions, Bookbug and Read, Write, Count, have had on the children of Scotland. It aims to determine whether they helped to inspire a long-term love of reading over the last 12 years.

The focus was to include children’s voices about how the book bag affected their reading attitudes and routines.

What do the children involved think about the programmes?

It’s clear that if we want to know what impacts reading intervention has on children, we need to ask them. Children are the experts on their childhood experiences and can tell us directly how they felt about receiving the books.

Did they read them? Did the books help build confidence around reading? Who did they share their books with? And so on.

With the impending incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 12 reminds us that it is adults’ responsibility to create safe spaces for children to express their opinions and for their views to be taken seriously.

Using comics to encourage participation

To help children meaningfully participate in research, there has to be a participatory method that would engage and excite them. A few BOOM!, POW!, and WOW’s later, SBT had comics drawn and narrated by children about their experiences of the reading intervention, detailing the impacts they felt had been important to them.

An essential part of this research was ensuring that children could give informed consent to the project to participate ethically. Children were therefore provided with transparent information about the purpose and relevance of the project.

four panels containing children's drawings of comics

It had to be voluntary; if children didn’t want to participate or didn’t want their stories to be shared, that was respected. We believe saying ‘no’ to participating without consequences is a powerful message to reinforce.

To ensure workshops were exciting and engaging for children, SBT hired a comic book practitioner to help design and run the research.

Paul Bristow of Magic Torch Comics is an expert in helping schools and community groups to tell stories using comics. He was perfectly placed to help children in the research project tell their memories of receiving and using the gifted book bags.

How to use comics to ask children for their opinions

In February 2022, SBT and Paul worked with four schools (two online and two in person) to run comic book workshops. Paul gave them an introduction from early comics in the form of cave paintings, to comic book science, like the meaning of words in bold or the purpose of exclamation marks!

The bespoke comic templates for this workshop were created by Paul and SBT to prompt the children in remembering what they may have done with the Read, Write, Count bags when they received them in P2 and P3.

The prompts included:

  • Superhero you (as a starter to get the children comfortable with drawing)
  • What do you remember about receiving the RWC bags?
  • What book did you read over and over again?
  • Where is your favourite place to read?
  • Who do you like to read with?
  • What is your favourite memory of reading a book?

The children were given 5-10 minutes to fill out each panel. While they were drawing, we engaged the children in conversation about their memories and recorded their comments. This was for contextualising the data in the analysis stage. Paul was able to help the children with their drawings.

The best tip he gave the children was for speech bubbles – to write the words first and then draw the bubble around it…mind blown!

So what impact did the programmes have?

The children all really enjoyed the comic book session, and especially were pleased with the certificates presented to them for taking part. They were even more pleased to find out that SBT wanted to thank them for their contribution with a £100 book token for their class.

The comics will feature prominently in SBT’s final report on the impact of the book gifting programmes, which will be launched in September.

Check out the Scottish Book Trust website for an update when the report is published.

Rebecca Rees is the Research and Evaluation Co-ordinator for Scottish Book Trust and has been leading on this project looking into the impact of the book gifting programmes since August 2021. 

Scottish Book Trust is a national charity that believes everyone living in Scotland should have equal access to books. Our work provides opportunities to improve life chances through books and the fundamental skills of reading and writing. Access to books and a love of books bring many important benefits from family bonding and advancing children’s learning, to unlocking creativity, helping employability and improving mental health & well-being. Scottish Book Trust aims to support all communities across Scotland, with particular focus on those who are vulnerable and under-represented.

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