James Patterson, the world’s bestselling author, is giving bookstores in Australia and New Zealand up to $5000 each to spend on initiatives to get children reading. The total prize pool available is $100,000.

The US author, who made the announcement in Sydney today, believes that there are far too many children at risk of living their lives without books and is concerned that this translates to a world ‘run by the self-centred, the short-sighted and the glib. The apathetic and the narrow-minded.’

‘There is no doubt in my mind that bookshops play an essential role in the community in getting kids reading,’ says James, who has run similar initiatives in the UK and the US.

‘I have been inspired, moved and delighted by the innovative proposals I have received from bookstores in the UK and the US. And I have been thrilled to see the real difference that these grants have already started to make. I can’t wait to see the proposals from Australian and New Zealand bookstores.’

To apply for the grant, booksellers must already have a dedicated children’s book section in their store.

‘This wonderful opportunity for booksellers provided by James Patterson through Penguin Random House, is another example of the bond between authors and booksellers working together to build the next generation of readers,’ says Lincoln Gould, the Chief Executive of Booksellers NZ. ‘I am sure that New Zealand booksellers will take up the challenge of developing creative ideas to enhance the reading experience of young people.’

New research shows that the number of books in the family home directly impacts a child’s reading level – by as much as three years. A 2014 study across 42 countries and 200,000 cases found that having a home library enhances academic performance for all children. The improvement was irrespective of the parent’s own education, which has massive implications.

Even if a parent is illiterate, just having a children’s book in the home helps. Its very physicality is an invitation to pick it up and turn the pages.

‘This initiative shines a light on literacy. It prompts us to ask: what do we want our future to be and how do we get there?’ says James.

Reading skills in New Zealand have dropped significantly since 2009, according to the most recent (2012) OECD report on literacy across 65 countries and half a million children. However, our average achievement remains above the OECD average.

‘Bookshops guard against a future in which far too many children are illiterate,’ says James. ‘So many bookstores are already making a difference in their communities and I’m looking to help bookstores who want to do more.’

’I’m open to all sorts of ideas. From an after-school bookclub, to an emailed newsletter. From a spot bonus to a valued employee, to funds to create a storytelling tent. Send me your ideas and I will read them,’ says James. ‘For me, making the pledge is the easy part. The tricky task will be deciding which shops to help.’

Booksellers have until 5pm Tuesday 30 June to apply for the grant. To download an application form, visit www.booksellers.co.nz/book-news/James-Patterson.

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