February 14, 2020

Books on prescription: successful reading scheme extended to include children’s books


One in 6 adults struggle to read and 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives.

These are the findings of The Reading Agency, a UK based charity which partners with organisations including public libraries, colleges and prisons to promote the benefits of reading.

In 2013, The Reading Agency launched a scheme called Reading Well, which aims to supports health and wellbeing using beneficial reading. A careful curated list of books was chosen by health experts and those affected by health issues, with the titles made readily available in public libraries across England, as well as being recommended by GPs and health professionals. The scheme went on to become a finalist for the Public Mental Health and Wellbeing Award in 2017 and since its launch, 1.2 million readers have borrowed over 2.3 million of the prescribed books from libraries.

Originally just aimed at adults, the scheme is now being expanded to include children’s books. This is a timely and necessary intervention: the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health reported in 2018 that schools were making on average 183 Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services daily referrals with 56% of those coming from primary schools, and in 2019 BookTrust reported that over a third of parents of children aged 4 to 11 worried about their child’s mental health at least once a week.

Karen Napier, CEO of The Reading Agency says:

“At The Reading Agency, we believe in the proven power of reading to tackle life’s big challenges, including the challenge we all face of managing our mental health and wellbeing. This new and important area of our work will support all children, including the 1 in 8 who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, with using quality-assured information, advice and stories all approved by experts.”

Reading Well for children officially launched last week, coinciding with Children’s Mental Health Week. Partnering with Libraries Connected and the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians, The Reading Agency recommends 33 titles, targeted at  7-11 year-olds, including books aimed at a wide range of reading levels. It splits books into the categories: healthy minds, worries, feelings, the world around you, dealing with tough times and when you have a condition, with books on a mixture of topics from dealing with anxiety to bullying to ADHD. These include Michael Rosen’s Sad BookThe Boy Who Built a Wall Around Himself by Ali Redford and Ruby’s Worry by Tom Percival. You can view the full list here.

Dr Barbie Clarke, a member of the book selection panel and child psychotherapist, said:

“Anxiety can cause children to feel isolated. Providing books which raise issues that concern them can encourage dialogue between children and their parents and carers. These books have been carefully chosen by children and parents in a series of workshops we ran with the Reading Agency that identified common causes of anxiety in children and how to provide appropriate support for them.”

Not only then is reading a pleasurable pastime it can have serious health benefits. It’s time to get yourself and your family to the library, asap.



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.