The Big Book Bash, Community Care Award winner 2006 looked-after children category

The Big Book Bash introduces looked-after children to the pleasures of reading. And its success has resulted in it winning the improving outcomes for looked-after children category at Community Care’s 2006 awards. Natalie Valios reports

Children’s author Jacqueline Wilson will be topping the bill of this year’s Big Book Bash in Derbyshire this summer. The BBB, organised by Derbyshire Council, started in 2004. The annual event brings looked-after children of all ages, fostering families, professionals and corporate parents together with children’s authors and illustrators to celebrate the joy of reading.

The event reveals to children the enjoyment of reading for pleasure, by allowing young people to interact with writers and artists and giving them books of their own.Encouraging the use of libraries is part of this. Its long-term aim is to improve the educational achievement of looked-after children.

The event, which takes place one Sunday in June, has grown from 200 attendees in the first year to almost 600 in 2006. Steve Lowe, children’s rights officer, says: “We might need to make it a whole weekend or find a larger venue for this year.”

Lowe has been involved from the beginning: “We were trying to think of ways we could get looked-after children interested in reading and writing.”

BBB has certainly done that. Young people are on the planning committee for the event so that they can suggest writers who they would like to be invited. They sit alongside social services and education, foster carers, early years service, youth service and toy libraries.

Writers who have been involved include Kate Cann, Nick Toczec, Robert Crowther, and Jeremy Strong. There are at least a dozen writers and performers at each event. The event covers all age ranges and all approaches including rap, illustration, drama, storytelling and non-fiction.

The children and young people also deliver performance workshops. Lowe says: “If they are interested we will find them something to do.”

Each writer has a young person who acts as their chaperone for the day to make sure that everything is running smoothly. Last year’s programme included a band, clowns, workshops, and a bookshop giving away free books. “We are trying to cater to the attention span of all children who come and give them some element of choice about what to do,” says Lowe.

“The informal approach is one of its strengths. When authors aren’t doing a workshop they will be meeting young people. They come out of most workshops having written or performed something.”

With the money from the award, the plan is to increase contributions by children and young people. This could be done either by publishing their stories or asking authors to write an opening paragraph for a story and then getting the children to finish it.

After last year’s BBB, care leavers produced a special magazine about the event with the help of journalists and photographers in the council’s press office – another way to improve literacy skills.

● Find out more about the Big Book Bash by e-mailing Steve Lowe

Keys to success

● The BBB issues free books and other reading and activity materials to all participants to encourage reading, at the same time bringing top authors to children to inspire their interest in literature.
● By involving the families of foster carers, BBB aims to celebrate the family element of reading and storytelling.
● Giving looked-after children an avenue to channel their talents has given them confidence, allowed them to tell their stories and have a say in decisions about their lives.

Contact the author
  Natalie Valios

This article appeared in the 15 February issue of the magazine under the headline “Read all about it!”


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