Bringing Children and Books Together: FCBG History of Special Initiatives

by Karen Hellewell (National Executive Committee member)

Butlins Story Room

The FCBG’s mission was first put into action though an early initiative with Butlins, whose Venture Weeks for school children was initiated in 1972 by Paul Winterforde-Young, a senior executive at Butlins, working with David Blanch, now an Honorary Federation President. Book group volunteers manned and ran a ‘Story Room’, a quiet refuge during the day for children to enjoy reading, share stories and talk about the books they liked, with evening storytelling sessions. Volunteers worked in Minehead, Bognor and Barry Island for many years and Butlins were pleased to use it as training for their Redcoats.

Story aid

As part of the United Nations International Literacy Year in 1990, the Federation was involved in the StoryAid Fundraising Project, raising thousands of pounds and collecting thousands of books to go overseas. A collection of good second-hand books was packed into boxes, collected by members of the Rotary Club and sent to the Ranfurly Library, which distributed them to Papua New Guinea, Guyana, Tanzania and Zambia. The project was extended until 2000 and the Isle of Wight CBG managed to collect 41 boxes of books!

The anthology Stories Round the World, in partnership with Hodder and Stoughton Publishers, was developed for StoryAid. The initial long list of 57 short stories compiled from members’ suggestions was sent out to the book groups and individual members to be tested. Some stories were tested by children reading on their own, others by teachers reading to their class and many by parents during family storytelling. In total the stories were tested by 21,000 children around the world.

Books for Zambia

1979 was the International Year of the Child and Val Bierman, founder member of the Edinburgh CBG, established a link with Choma Library in Zambia, organising the collection and donation of books through book groups. 

Seven stories – The Armchair collection

In 2008, St Albans CBG donated ‘The Armchair Traveller’ to Seven Stories, comprising 495 children’s books which were originally the basis of their Summer Reading Club. The project ran for over 30 years and was the forerunner of the Summer Reading Challenge. The group was keen to keep children reading through the summer holidays by travelling the world from the comfort of their armchair. To read more about this project visit here

Story sacks

Some book groups, working closely with hospitals create story sacks for individuals based around stories.


NSSM events are held throughout May and in 2018 book groups celebrated a world of stories in so many different ways. Some schools twinned across Europe to share stories while others were shared by old and young, in villages and libraries and in buses in Liverpool. Groups celebrated with teddy bear picnics.


In 1980 Pat Thomson conceived the idea of creating an entirely new book award that actually involved children throughout the process. Similar awards were given on behalf of librarians or publishers, but no other major children’s award involved solely children as judges. Publishers donated books to ten of the Federation’s book groups, covering the whole of the UK. These Testing Groups developed a network of schools and families who read the books then completed a simple review form. The results were tabulated centrally and a winner emerged.  From these results, the Federation published a Pick of the Year booklist, an annotated list of the top 50 titles. The Award Ceremony was celebrated with a lunch to which shortlisted authors and illustrators, their publishers and most importantly, children from the Testing Groups were invited. Each of the shortlisted authors received a portfolio of letters and pictures from the children.  The Award later obtained sponsorship from the Save and Prosper Educational Trust, negotiated by Jenny Blanch. At this stage the prize varied each year. In 1987 Allan and Janet Ahlberg were presented with a post-box, for The Jolly Postman. From 1989 onwards, the Overall Winner has received a wonderful silver ‘oak tree’ trophy created by royal silversmith, Graham Stewart. The Category Winners prizes and the Older Readers Category was introduced in 1990. The award was subsequently supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the award became the Red House children’s book award for the period of Sponsorship by the Book People.


National Non-Fiction Day was created in 2010 to mark the significance of non-fiction books for the development and enjoyment of reading.  It has expanded, like many other Federation initiatives, into National Non- Fiction November and the resources available on the website have supported activities wherever they are held. This initiative has balanced the emphasis on story and imagination with the lure of finding out about things.

Jean Russell storytelling Project

2016 was the year of the Jean Russell Storytelling Project, born from the Jean Russell Gift, reaching out to vulnerable and less privileged children through the power of stories. The project is in partnership with and supported by The Ragdoll Foundation and in 2016 ran throughout the year, working with young carers and reaching thousands of children in hospitals, in schools in deprived areas, at Community Arts Festivals.

Anna Conomos, international performance storyteller extraordinaire, worked with six local children’s book groups across the UK, helping young people create their own stories and perform them to others. Each project was designed to leave a legacy: through enabling the children to take their own stories away with them, by using local stories across generations to create a lasting sense of community, by encouraging parents and carers to tell stories to their children and by helping children become storytellers themselves to the children who follow them. A new project with the same focus, ‘Story Cooking’, took place during 2018.







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