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.
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
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 www.visitingauthor.com.
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
Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers, illustrated by David Tazzyman & published by OUP