Monday, 17 June 2013

The day after Father's Day - John Dougherty

Being a dad is important to me. Whatever else I get wrong, I want to get my dadding as right as I can.

I don't always, of course. But one of the things I think I've managed to do well is the bedtime story. I don't just mean the way I read it - I mean the fact that I do it at all; the fact that I'm still doing it as often as possible, even though my children - now 12 & 10 - have the sort of busy lives many children their age have; and the fact that I've managed to read a wide variety of stories, without ever - I hope - imposing on them something they really don't want to hear.

It would be a huge loss to me if I wasn't able to read to my kids. But of course, not everyone can, for a number of reasons.

This year, the Chipping Norton Literary Festival (of which I'm very proud to be a patron) had a charity partner - Storybook Dads. I hadn't heard of the charity, but I'm glad I have now, because what they do is quite brilliant. They work with prisoners, to enable them to read stories to their children.

The idea's quite simple. They record a prisoner reading a bedtime story, burn a CD, and send it to the prisoner's child. Where the prisoner isn't confident in his reading skills - and there is, of course, a strong correlation between illiteracy and imprisonment - a Storybook Dad volunteer will read the story a sentence at a time, with the prisoner repeating it; the prompter is then edited out.

A representative of Storybook Dads gave a short presentation at this year's Chip Lit Fest, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house by the end of it. The work they do clearly means a huge amount to the children, for one thing. But it's even more important than that. Here are a few facts & stats about imprisonment and family ties, copied from the list here:

  • Over half of imprisoned parents lose contact with their families. Those that maintain contact are up to 6 times less likely to reoffend
  • Over 160,000 children each year are affected by parental imprisonment - more than are affected by divorce
  • Prisoners’ children are 3 times more likely to suffer from mental health problems than their peers
  • Although family ties and recidivism are inextricably linked, there is little support or statutory funding for supporting families & maintaining family ties
 That last one is interesting, isn't it? Why, given the other statistics, should this area be so lacking in support? I can't help but think that it has to do with other stories - like the 'Prison as Holiday Camp' narrative so beloved of some of our less empathetic newspapers. And of course these narratives, with their moral that says criminals should be punished as much as possible, ignores the fact that very often it's not just the guilty who are affected by a prison sentence.

Thanks for reading this far. Please take a look at the website, and find out a bit more about the work that Storybook Dads (and Storybook Mums) do in prisons. They're very much needed.

John's website is at
He's on twitter as @JohnDougherty8

His most recent books include:

Finn MacCool and the Giant's Causeway - a retelling for the Oxford Reading Tree
Bansi O'Hara and the Edges of Hallowe'en
Zeus Sorts It Out - "A sizzling comedy... a blast for 7+" , and one of The Times' Children's Books of 2011, as chosen by Amanda Craig

Coming soon:   
 Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers, illustrated by David Tazzyman & published by OUP


Ruth Symes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ruth Symes said...

Wow - just got back from a Read2Dogs session and clicked on ABBA. So glad I did - what a great post and what an absolutely brilliant idea :)

Penny Dolan said...

Such great & worthwhile projects. Thanks for highlighting them, John.

Sue Purkiss said...

I'd read about this project before, and I think it's a brilliant idea. Thanks, John!

Mary Esther Judy said...

How about a One Lovely Blog Award for you guys? You are fab!
Here's my link:

xx, Mary

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C.J.Busby said...

Apparently Patrick Ness was asked at Hay this year when you should stop reading at to your children, and he said, in horror, "What?! You read to your children? You should NEVER read to your children!" then went on to explain that his parents had been evangelicals who'd insisted on reading improving biblical homilies aloud ALL the time. Scarred him for life!.. Thought it was quite a funny way of putting the 'other side' - reading as imposition!