With every school summer holiday comes the annual Summer Reading Challenge, coordinated by The Reading Agency in partnership with public libraries across the UK. It’s a simple yet brilliant concept – kids sign up for free at their local library, then read six books of their choice over the summer holidays to collect rewards and complete the challenge.
This year, the theme ‘Mischief Makers’ has seen the SRC taken over by Dennis and Gnasher – not to mention all your other Beanotown favourites. Kids sign up to get their very own map of Beanotown, collecting stickers with every book read to find the location of a hidden treasure chest. What’s more, we have a brand-new game up on the Beano website, so they can help Dennis return his overdue library books without getting caught!
My last experience with the Summer Reading Challenge was in 2002; I was six or seven, the theme was ‘The Reading Planet’, and I distinctly remember populating my space-themed sheet with alien stickers and reading a lot of Roald Dahl. If there was a website back then, I didn’t know about it. Nowadays, you can create an online account (your ‘Reading Agency Passport’) and log your reading on the website, or even head to the Book Sorter when stuck for something to read to get personalised recommendations from other children.
Despite the influence of technology on the Summer Reading Challenge over the years, libraries remain vital spaces in our communities, not only making books and knowledge accessible to everyone, but existing as an essential digital resource. At your local library, anybody (regardless of age, ability, or finances) can use a computer, browse the internet, use a printer or photocopier, or even enrol in public learning courses. Forbes' recent misstep – a since-deleted article entitled ‘Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money’ – failed entirely to consider the incredible value that public libraries add to a community, aside from the obvious. Libraries are, and continue to be, all about accessibility.
With this in mind, the SRC’s 2018 ‘Mischief Makers’ theme goes even further, giving young readers new representation in kids’ media. With Dennis and Gnasher and friends attached to a reading campaign, the idea of books being for ‘a certain type of child’ is gradually broken down. Reading isn’t just about the skill of identifying shapes on the page and giving them meaning – it’s about stories. Whether a ten-year-old is stumbling through Moby Dick or has their nose in a Beano comic, the interaction with stories is helping them develop curiosity, exercise their imagination, and learn empathy – all things that we very much endorse in our own work in the kids’ sphere.
We’ve loved working with the Beano team on Return to Lender, our library-themed game for Dennis and Gnasher, and hope that young Dennis fans have just as much fun playing it!