Page last updated at 01:28 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Bookstart birthday bash makes reading fun

The national baby book gifting scheme, Bookstart, is celebrating its 10th anniversary with events around the country.

BBC Scotland's Laura Pettigrew went to a Bookstart birthday party in North Lanarkshire to find out why the scheme has proved so successful.

"Hello everyone, hello everyone, glad that you could come."

The singing and dancing is already in full swing and the rows of empty buggies at the entrance to Bellshill cultural centre clearly indicates that the mothers, babies, toddlers and even grannies are out in full force.

Children at Bookstart birthday party
At Rhymetime sessions children sing songs and read stories

They are all here to celebrate 10 years of Bookstart, a national literacy programme implemented through libraries and aimed at encouraging reading from a very young age.

About 40 children and their carers have gathered for this birthday celebration.

There are songs, clapping, dancing, then a story.

And of course a visit from Hamish the Bookstart bear who has come to blow out the 10 candles on a lovely chocolate cake, traces of which are later to be smeared around the mouths of the eager young participants.

"I like reading books and singing the songs," said three-year-old Cadon, who has been coming along to Rhymetime sessions at the library, with his mother Sarah Stewart, since he was 13-months-old.

Bookstart is about engaging with children and parents at the earliest stage in life
Russell Brown
North Lanarkshire Council

"My favourites are Snap Snap Croc and Big Fuzzy. My daddy reads to me at bedtime," he added.

Sarah said: "He starts nursery soon and we are really going to miss this.

"He takes lots of books home and I really think it has helped with his speech."

And that is exactly the kind of success story those involved with the Bookstart programme are keen to promote.

As part of the scheme every baby in North Lanarkshire is entitled to a free book pack, then a further pack when they reach 18-months, and a final treasure chest of books and activities when they turn three.

Twins Mary and Leonie Mays
Twins Mary and Leonie Mays joined in the Bookstart celebrations

Library staff work closely with health visitors and local mother-and-baby support groups to ensure as many parents as possible know about the programme.

"Bookstart is about engaging with children and parents at the earliest stage in life and giving them the gift of stories and the building blocks of language and reading," said Russell Brown, children's library services manager with North Lanarkshire Council.

"It is vital that we make it an enjoyable interactive experience.

"We want to show that reading can be fun and we do that by making words and talking and pictures and songs all part of the fun at our Bookstart sessions."

New arrivals

Over the past decade book packs have been gifted to 67,000 children across the region and more than 3,000 Rhymetime sessions have taken place.

Among the first Rhymetime participants back in 1999 was Sarah Bennett, now a 10-year-old at school in Motherwell.

"My mum brought me along when I was a baby. I don't remember it but I really love reading books now," she said.

Sarah has been invited to the Bookstart birthday party as a special guest.

Rhymetime at Bellshill cultural centre
Parents say the sessions encourage them to read more to their children

"When I was a baby mum used to read Dear Zoo to me but now I like reading the Twilight series.

"I'm working my way through them at the moment," she added.

The Rhymetime session may be old hat for Sarah but the birthday party has also attracted some new arrivals.

Six-month-old twins Mary and Leonie Mays are getting lots of attention from the other mothers and toddlers as they smile and wave their arms propped on a big cushion in the singing circle.

"It's the first time we have been here, " said her mother Becky.

"A friend told me about it and they seem to be really enjoying themselves.

"I'll definitely be bringing them back."

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