Francesca Barrett is a new young writer (10 years old) and this is her first article for HIP. She has a passion for reading and writing, and wants to encourage others her age to get involved with the things that she writes about. 

Every year, since 1999, East Sussex County Council libraries runs the Summer Reading Challenge for six weeks. Children are challenged to borrow, read and return six books to win prizes on their way to life-long reading. The Summer Reading Challenge is a national, annual program produced by The Reading Agency and delivered in partnership with libraries across the country.

Francesca Barrett

Covid-19 has affected all areas of our lives – including libraries. They were shut in lockdown, like everything else. With the summer well and truly over, I wondered how they managed. How did the Summer Reading Challenge go this year? Did it even happen? I went to find out! 

I met the Librarian, Henry Young, in the hustle and bustle of the designated children’s floor on a sunny Saturday in September. He agreed to go over all things Summer Reading Challenge, what has been, what is and what will be.

He explained: “If we engage children and help them discover a love of books, learning and reading when they are young, then they will come back when they are older. The Summer Reading Challenge is aimed at families and carers with young children between four and 11, as little ones don’t go to the library by themselves. They normally come with mum, dad, guardian or someone else they live with. What the library is trying to do is hook the family
in by helping them experience that the library as a safe and welcoming place to read in and borrow from.”

He further explained that the Summer Reading Challenge is one way of reaching young, reluctant readers, stating: “I ask children to read six books in six weeks. That can be any book! You can read Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban which is so big you have to carry it home in a wheelbarrow, or you can read Where’s Wally? a book with no words! It helps as that means the children aren’t worried about reading six books.” 

Young and the team also focus on finding reluctant readers with special events throughout the year.  It is a challenge the library team take on every year. “For them to find the type of book that they love (for example, adventure, comedy or non-fiction) and then to keep on reading is what we love to see and hope they find. The Summer Reading Challenge in not just about having something to do over the holidays or getting prizes, it’s about learning to love books, and shows them that they can always find something new at the library.”

Francesca Barrett interviewing Henry Young

Interestingly, the Summer Reading Challenge does not provide prizes for secondary school children although all children of all ages are encouraged to borrow books, read and enjoy what the library offers.

In 2020 The Reading Agency developed a digital challenge platform – This was the biggest change to the Summer Reading Challenge in 20 years. It helped reach local families, and getting children to read, even during library was mostly closed due to Covid. In 2020, 691 children joined the Summer Reading Challenge, helped by this innovation. 

To put this in perspective, in 2018 the Summer Reading Challenge reached 4,800 local children, which increased to 5,543 in 2019. 2021 has had more children registered for the challenge, almost reaching similar levels to before the pandemic: 4,860. Young was amazed and pleasantly surprised at how comfortable adults and children felt at coming back to the library this year, exceeding the amount of people signing up in 2018. 

For those who have taken part in this year’s challenge – watch out for your certificates. These are given to schools during the week of 11th October. The Summer Reading Challenge will come back in the summer of 2022. Volunteering opportunities will be available for ages 14 years and over. 

As the summer is over, East Sussex County Council Libraries are getting ready for the Winter Mini Challenge and the East Sussex Book Awards. The library needs us to keep reading. 

Reading is my life, my passion and my world: it lets me escape and is why I go to the library and why I have chosen to write about the Summer Reading Challenge. I’m in. How about you?

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