We believe every child has the right to the support they need to be functionally literate when they leave primary school. We want Bristol to be a city that reads to its children and fosters a lifelong love of reading, from an early age.
So what are we doing to tackle these issues? Ablaze has an established Reading Partners programme which puts trained volunteers into primary schools to buddy a pupil for a year.
We are also working with Bristol City Council’s Reading City initiative, which is setting up ‘cloakroom libraries’ in children’s centres and early years settings to encourage young children and their parents to share books together and provide a space for volunteers to read with children.
Please join us in our work to tackle the issue of functioning illiteracy. We would really appreciate your support. An hour a week of your time could have a huge impact on a child’s life and help to improve their reading skills. Donations can make amazing things happen for Ablaze and the Reading City.
You can donate to Ablaze here – your donation can make a difference.
- With 10 donations of £5, we could train two Reading Partners
- With 10 donations of £10, we could provide support for volunteers working with four pupils
- With 10 donations of £40, we could set up a new school and business partnership
If you would like to find out more about Reading Partners, or any other programmes that Ablaze runs, please contact us.
Literacy is one of the fundamental skills we need to function and thrive in our lives. Ablaze believes that every child has the right to leave school with good enough literacy to make the most of their future potential. Literacy matters, not just for individuals but for our collective community. Our vision of Bristol as an inclusive, prosperous city relies on us supporting all our children to reach the expected standard they need before they leave school.
Lacking vital literacy skills holds a person back at every stage of their life. As a child they won’t be able to succeed at school, as a young adult they will be locked out of the job market, and as a parent they won’t be able to support their own child’s learning. This intergenerational cycle makes social mobility and a fairer society more difficult.
Bristol City Council’s ‘State of the City’ report for 2019 states that 64% of 11-year olds in Bristol achieved the expected standard in Reading Writing and Maths combined. This means a staggering 36% did not. That’s more than a third of our children leaving Primary School with insufficient literacy skills. Clearly, we still have work to do.
Here are some statistics on literacy from other organisations working in the field. They show the scale of the challenge we all face.
- 25% of children left primary school last year (2017-18) unable to read to the required level, being roughly 156,000 children
- 70% of pupils permanently excluded from school have difficulties with basic literacy
- 25% of young offenders have reading skills below that of the average seven-year old
- If current trends continue, we will have left behind 1.5 million children by 2025
- Poor literacy skills cost the UK economy £81 billion every year
16.4% of adults in England, or 7.1 million people, can be described as having ‘very poor literacy skills’ in other words they are functionally illiterate.
Children who fail to reach the expected standard at aged 11 are three times more likely to experience mental health problems as adults, and twice as likely to be unemployed aged 34.
A quarter of 11-year-olds in England, and close to half of disadvantaged children, were unable to read well when they left primary school last year (2015). This will prevent them from achieving their potential in secondary school, and beyond, and creates obstacles to a fairer society.
The reading gap between boys and girls in England is one of the widest in the developed world. Children from poorer backgrounds are also more likely to fall behind.
7.7% of 16-17 year olds (2017/18) were not in education, employment or training’ (NEET), worse than the national average of 5.5%.
 The National Literacy Trust website
Reading tips for parents
Parents, we appreciate it can sometimes be difficult to fit in time to read with your children during or at the end of your busy day. It can also be a challenge to know how to support your child through their journey in mastering literacy. However, it has been proved that just 10 minutes a day of reading with an adult can significantly increase a child’s chances of becoming a fluent reader before going on to secondary school. Read, sing or share stories with your child for just 10 minutes a day from birth and you will be rewarded with seeing their confidence & ability improve.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Talk to your child about what they are reading and share books you’ve enjoyed yourself.
- Find a quiet place to read and turn off the TV and mobile phone, if you can.
- Sit where you can both see the story, so that you can talk about the pictures.
- It’s great to make links to real life when you are reading – if there’s a picture of a dog, talk about a dog that you know.
- Let grandparents, older siblings and other adults join in with reading too.
- Don’t be afraid to share their favourite books over and over again – this will help your child to learn new words and enable them to join in.
- As your child gets older, choose a longer chapter book to come back to each day – this will help to build their memory and understanding.
- Ask your child what they think might happen next in the story – asking their opinion helps your child to become the storyteller.
- Continue to read with your child, even when they can read by themselves.
Ablaze would like to encourage all parents to spend a little time helping your children learn to love books and reading By following these useful tips, we hope that you and your child can flourish in the enjoyment and fun that reading can bring.
Our book recommendations
Your local librarians will always be happy to recommend books. Bristol Libraries have produced lists of book suggestions for 6-8 year olds and 8-11 year olds. If your local library doesn’t have the book you would like, you can search the Libraries West catalogue and order books or audiobooks to be delivered to your local library – ask your librarian if you need help with this.
If you still need some inspiration for what to read, here are some of our staff, trustees and volunteers’ favourite books:
Sally Melvin – Ablaze CEO
My daughters are 19 and 17 now and we still read together occasionally, although mostly we watch reality TV together! I’ve chosen three books that we all loved when they were little
- Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers by Mairi Hedderwick –we loved every book in this series but this one especially because the two granny characters mirrored their real ones and it made us laugh. Beautifully illustrated and great story telling.
- Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown – funny and weird, nothing more to say.
- A Squash and A Squeeze by Julia Donaldson –everything she does is brilliant and so lyrical and funny. Her amazing rhymes make for good repetition and read along out loud.
Catherine Correia – Primary Partnership Manager
My children are 18 and 15 now, so we don’t really sit down for a ‘bedtime read’ anymore. That was our favourite time of the day when they were little. I’ve still kept all of our favourite books in the loft as I can’t quite part from them. It was really hard choosing my favourite three:
- Barbapapa by the French-American couple Annette Tison and Talus Taylor – I loved Barbapapa when I was growing up in the 70s. It’s the story of this surreal pink ‘blob’ of a character who gets rejected by everyone until he discovers a unique skill… Great picture book with a lovely story which we read many times. It’s now become a series.
- You Choose – by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart – fabulous book to engage in conversation and develop reading, speech and imagination. I think I could still read it with my teenagers today and have fun with it.
- Leo by Robert Kraus and Jose Aruego – this is a very special little book, beautifully illustrated, about a baby Tiger who is a ‘late bloomer’. Our son was late in developing his speech, probably because he was exposed to three languages, so we loved reading this together.
Vicki Gibbs – Ablaze Finance Manager
My two boys are now 8 and 11, and spend a lot of time reading Tom Gates, Wimpy Kid and The Beano; they listen to audiobooks a lot too. We had so many favourite books when they were small, but here are a few that were requested again and again.
- You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart – excellent for sparking conversation with great rhymes and wonderful pictures.
- Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss – brilliant rhymes, fun for all ages
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems – very funny, would you let the persistent pigeon drive?
Robert Bourns, Ablaze Trustee
- Rikki Tikki Tavy by Rudyard Kipling – I have memories of being read this as a child. The book has fantastic characterisation of the mongoose and cobra.
- Pooh Bear by AA Milne – love to be the optimist that is Pooh Bear, or the curmudgeon that is Eeyore!
- Almost anything by Laurans Van Der Post – it’s so sad that a way of life in tune with its environment was destroyed.
Beth Evans, Ablaze Trustee
- Tootles the Taxi and Other Rhymes by Joyce B. Clegg – more a set of poems but I knew them all by heart. Mickey the mail van, Binkie the bicycle, Minnie the milk float etc. etc. were the soundtrack to my early years. I probably could remember them now if pushed!
- The Chalet School series by Elinor Brent-Dyer – not great literature it has to be said, but growing up in the Midlands in the 1960/70’s, the world of an international boarding school in Switzerland seemed very exotic and I loved these books (all 50 or so of them). The series was recently described as “puzzling, silly, repetitious, unintentionally funny, pious, charming and peculiar” and original copies now fetch good prices apparently – I should have kept mine.
- Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott – a classic. I was pretty devastated when (spoiler alert) Beth died, but I loved the stories of the March sisters.
Ashley Daniells, Ablaze Trustee
- Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling – I remember picking up the first Harry Potter book in my school library in Year 7. I took it home that weekend and didn’t put it down until I had finished. It was a breath of fresh air and was the first book I read that was aimed at a slightly older audience. Going forward I would always pre-order the book and would share it with my family when I was done – there was a very specific order! I loved the books then, but I also dip back into them as an adult and I’ve managed to get most of my nieces and nephews reading them too.
- A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer – this is a slightly odd choice given its subject matter. A Child Called It tells the story of a young boy who grows up in a house with an alcoholic father and an abusive mother. I found it incredibly inspiring as the book formed part of a trilogy, which culminated with the author discussing his life now and how he’d overcome the hurdles in front of him. The book was well written, gritty and heartfelt – the fact that it was a true story made it so much more moving. I read this book on a summer holiday in Cyprus when I was about 13 and I saw another boy of the same age reading it. We got talking about the book and we’re still friends 17 years later – the power of a book!
- Animorphs by K. A. Applegate – This was a book series where six humans were given the power to morph into animals to fight an alien race – so very realistic of course! This was the first book where I read the whole series and it had elements of teenager thriller, sci-fi and action. As a young teenager it was truly gripping stuff and I loved the element of sci-fi which hadn’t been in many of the books that I read before. It also reminds me of my English GCSE class as the teacher had all the posters of the book on the wall – so the series provides lots of happy memories.
Oliver Higgs from Speed Communications
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – not only was this book an emotional examination of friendship, but gave me the chance to learn an about an incredibly interesting part of American history.
- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – the novel creates a fantastic world that was so easy to be engrossed in.
- The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Suess – fantastic, a literary triumph!
Ben Rogers from Speed Communications
- Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K Rowling – I was introduced to the world of Harry Potter by a teacher in Year 5 who read it to the whole class over the course of a month or so. From that moment I was hooked and have since read the entire series too many times to admit
- Of Mice & Men by John Steinbeck – an absolute classic that takes the reader on an emotional rollercoaster – a true must read.
- Horrible Science: Blood, Bones & Body Bits by Nick Arnold – a comedic biology book that’s equal parts informative and funny, what’s not to love?
Ceri, WEM Project Manager
I’ve got a gorgeous niece who is 27, and a fabulous nephew who is 8, so I thought I would ask them about their favourite books. Here’s what they told me…
- Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman – “a drama exploring issues of social justice set in a black supremacist society, as told by two teenagers during the early stages of the integration of segregated schools. I was probably about 12 when I read it and it blew my mind!”
- The Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket – “the adventures of three orphans whose parents suspiciously died in a house fire trying to find the truth in a world of mysterious villains…as told by a quirky unreliable narrator. I’d say ages 7 – 13. I loved them”
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl – “because you can eat lots of cool sweets and chocolate in the factory”
- Santa is Coming to Cardiff by Steve Smallman – “I like this because it’s a story about a boy like me trying to stay awake to see Santa and the reindeers”
Jenny, Fundraising and Communications Manager, Mentoring Plus
My son, now aged 12, and I have a shared love of books and reading together has been great fun – we both really get into the books. Here are 3 of our favourites.
- Dinosaur Cove by Rex Stone – who doesn’t love dinosaurs?! Tom and Jamie share lots of adventures in their dinosaur world, accessed through a cave on a beach in Dorset. We have read the whole series, each book is a different adventure – there are lots of fantastic pictures and maps and dinosaur facts. The books are quite short and Wanna, their friendly dinosaur, appears often – these books have everything for young dinosaur lovers !
- The Witches by Roald Dahl – we have read this many times together. I am always the High Witch and I have perfected my High Witch voice – my son likes me to do voices and it leads to much hilarity. The book has lots of twists and turns and after you read it you might just be looking out for any witches near you !
- The Goldfish Boy – Lisa Thompson – a new author that was recommended to us by my friend’s daughter with dyslexia. My son can’t read them quickly enough; he read one of Lisa’s books recently and actually cried at the end. In this book twelve-year-old Matthew is trapped in his bedroom by crippling OCD, but then he gets involved in a mystery as he spots something outside from his window and turns detective. It is well worth a read for all levels of readers.
Fiona Tolmie, former Ablaze Trustee
What a difficult task this was! My children are now 31 and 33, but I have a box in the loft of their favourite books from childhood. If I have to pick just three, then I have chosen these somewhat at random as there are dozens of others I could choose.
- Clocks and More Clocks, by Pat Hutchins – this book reminded us of an uncle’s house which had several clocks which struck the hour at different times (we still mention the book when we visit the house and the clocks strike) and we liked the pictures.
- Harry Potter series by JK Rowling – my children grew up with the Harry Potter series. I used to read aloud to them every evening and I remember reading the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to them soon after it was first published, before it became famous. My son, aged about ten, demanded to be allowed to continue to read it to himself in bed – something he had never done before!
- Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery – I remember being similarly enthralled by this book at the age of ten. I was given it by my parents for Christmas and I recently came across a photograph of myself curled up in a chair near the Christmas tree, surrounded by unwrapped presents and the rest of the family, completely lost in it.
Helen Farmer, Consultant and key partner for Ablaze
- Eloise Undercover by Sarah Baker – both me and my nine-year-old couldn’t put this book down, it is a real page turner. It’s got me back into fiction, a perfect complement to my save the world reads.
- Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton – ‘That’s not my mummy, her ears are too big…” Really simple but lovely illustrations and story.
- Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty -the rhymes, pictures and story are really fun and accessible. My five-year-old really enjoying this one and others in the series. I’d like to see lots more books like this in the world, including in schools
Recommendations from our Reading Buddies
We asked volunteers and pupils who take part in our Reading Buddies programme for their favourite children’s books. Here are their suggestions.
- Matilda by Roald Dahl – kids love it!
- The Hodgeheg by Dick King-Smith – this book is funny for all
- The Famous Five by Enid Blyton – The Famous Five books are easy to follow and have some great stories, which are good for the imagination.
- Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse by Ursula Moray Williams – this is one I read myself when I was young. It is timeless.
- The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis – I love the way it moves from the mundane to the magical
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney – a great combination of picture and text, the children really relate to it.
- Skellig by David Almond – a great story and worthwhile reading!
- Charlie and Lola by Lauren Child – my Reading Partner gets very excited about reading it!
- Ninja–Rella by Joey Comeau – this is a recent discovery, and introduces children to classic stories in a non-gender stereotyped, non-heteronormative way.
- A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond – this was my favourite book as a child.
- Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl – I love the sense of adventure and nostalgia for a time gone past.
- Bad Dad by David Walliams – I love watching my daughter laugh at the descriptions of the characters and the things they get up to.
- The Nine Lives of Montezuma by Michael Morpurgo – beautifully written and deals with real life issues that spark interesting conversation.
- Jack the Giant Killer by Burton Anderson – I really like Jack.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney – Greg is a great character.
- The World’s Worst Teachers by David Walliams – very funny
- Tom Gates by Liz Pichon
- Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey – I love the characters of George Beard and Harold Hutchins
- Daisy Eat Your Peas by Kes Gray and Nick Sharratt
- Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers
- Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers
- The Wibbly Wobbly Tooth by David Mills – a bilingual book
- Snip, Snip… Snow by Nancy Poydar
- I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child
- The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson
- The Demon Dentist by David Walliams – I love the character of Alfie
- The Home-Made Cat Café (Poppy’s Place) by Katrina Charman – a series about Isla, who is CRAZY about cats!
- The Bed and Breakfast Star by Jacqueline Wilson
- Barry Loser by Jim Smith – it’s a nice and funny book
- The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell – Feo untames wolves so that they can return to live in the wild.
- My Headteacher is a Vampire Rat by Pamela Butchart – I like the character of Maisie because she does lots of funny things.