Reading is vitally important to a young person’s wellbeing, and access to books can really improve the experience of children in hospital. The Evelina London Children’s Hospital cares for children with a variety of health conditions, and also functions as a specialist unit for kidney transplants, dialysis, allergy and neurology, as well as cleft lip surgery and metabolic conditions. Treating over 50,000 children of all ages each year – from babies to young adults – the hospital and its staff are dedicated to providing outstanding care for all children and their families.
The hospital has been designed to provide an exceptional environment for treatment and recuperation, with a conservatory, themed floors, and plenty of access to sunlight and fresh air, as well as world-leading equipment. They’re hoping to add a fully-stocked library to their on-site offering, and we want to do everything we can to raise awareness about this very worthy cause!
Whatever the reason – whether a child is stuck inside on a rainy day, on a long train journey, or if they’re feeling poorly – we’re huge fans of encouraging children to read more. There are many studies evidencing the positive impact of reading at any age: it aids brain function, helps to hone social skills (such as empathy), and alleviates stress.
For children in hospital, however, books can be more than just valuable – they can, quite literally, be a lifeline: all at once comforting, reassuring, and distracting. Reading can prove a highly therapeutic process, helping children develop literacy skills so that they can express themselves more effectively – vitally important in a hospital setting, an environment in which children need to communicate how they’re feeling as precisely as possible. It also provides an important form of release. Reading offers a coping mechanism, which allows children to deal with stressful circumstances in a more positive way, both distracting them and cheering them up.
Leila Makki, a volunteer at an Italian children’s hospital that has had notable success with an on-site reading programme, is a great believer in the therapeutic benefits of reading. ‘Reading is like a relief valve,’ she says. ‘It helps children deal with painful or stressful circumstances. In our case, when a child is captured by a certain book or story, the fear and anxiety that being in a hospital brings, is forgotten. Doctors, nurses, injections, tests and medications disappear. In that moment, the scary part does not exist. It’s just the child, a volunteer and the book they chose together.’
Indeed, the experience of reading a book with a child can be a powerful confidence-booster: it helps the child feel that they matter, and that this time is just for them and the person sharing in the story with them. This can help families bond during anxious waits at the hospital, and can also help the child who is being treated build a trusting relationship with hospital staff (should a volunteer at the hospital take the time to read with them).
Miranda McKearney, CEO of The Reading Agency, included this brilliant quote from a young person in her speech to Scottish Parliament on ‘the importance of reading to children and society’: ‘Reading is like going on a holiday without packing your bags. Better than any doctor’s medicine.’
We couldn’t have put it better! So please, if you have any books to spare, or would like to make a donation, do check out the Evelina London Children’s Hospital Book Club page to learn more. Every donation would make such a difference to the hospital and the experiences of the young people who are being treated there.