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Discover the national project Reading Hack and how you can get involved

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Hack (verb): to modify or change something in an extraordinary way.

By Bridget Taylor


According to the National Literacy Trust’s 2015 report, just over half of children aged 8 to 18 surveyed said that they enjoyed reading either ‘very much’ or ‘quite a lot’ and a third reported reading outside the classroom every day for fun. Only 42% agreed with the statement ‘reading is cool’, and 54% said they preferred watching TV to reading.

Over the past five years these figures have improved slightly – seeming to show a slow trend towards more reading for pleasure among young people. However, with increasing demands on their attention from the digital world of games apps, YouTube and social networking, this growing trend seems precarious.

At a recent Reading Hack event in Manchester’s Central Library, part of the BBC’s #LovetoRead festival, Humanity Hallows asked volunteers Iqra Ali and Melanie Greenwood their thoughts on the subject. Iqra responded:

“Reading is important because it gives you room to be imaginative, to explore a different world; it makes you able to understand someone else’s point of view – opening up your mind to new things.” And Iqra should know – she let on that she could read a book a night, to the point where her friends accused her of being addicted!

Melanie agreed: “It allows you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes – to understand and explore different emotions”.

Both young people had just finished interviewing author Samantha Shannon on her advice to young authors and attitude to reading. Samantha argued that it is vital to approach reading in an interactive way, to “make it exciting by helping young people connect with stories – it doesn’t necessarily have to be in book form, as long as they’re consuming narrative”. This is really the heart of Reading Hack’s approach to engaging children with books and reading. They describe it as ‘reading subverted – flipped on its head’, by taking a very broad approach to what we mean by reading and using inventive ways to engage children and young people with it. Workshops going on as part of the event included using screen printing to create book cover designs, and making stop motion animations of the participants’ favourite scenes from literature using Lego people.

Ian Pye from Mako Education, an organisation which helps facilitate children’s learning through technology, said, “We spend 10% of the time showing young people how to use the technology, and the other 90% of the time just treating it as a tool for young people to show us what they know and what they can do.”

So it seems that pitting reading against digital technology is a false dichotomy. This generation of young people are growing up in a world where the internet and handheld devices are increasingly ubiquitous. The challenge, if we want to see children’s love of reading continue to grow, is how to harness that technology to further that aim – rather than dismissing it entirely. Samantha Shannon mentioned the growing number of ‘book tubers’ (people who vlog about books on YouTube) who are using this very new medium to creatively explore a very old one – showing that one does not necessarily have to supersede the other, in fact the two can work hand in hand.

Reading Hack also encourages the reader to take more creative control. Some suggestions from the website include: taking two of your favourite books, cutting up pages from them and rearranging the lines into a poem, using search terms to ‘remix the internet into poetry’ and poetry hacktivism: cutting up pages from magazines or newspapers on interesting issues to make a poem – ideas that might get all of us reading more! This kind of activity seems especially important in the age of ‘information overload’, as it encourages children to be active in shaping the world around them, rather than simply passive receivers. However, these are still means to an end. In light of the volunteers’ views, nothing can replace the feeling of getting inside somebody else’s head through reading, and the empathy that that helps to foster.

Reading Hack had 9,300 young people, aged 13-24, volunteering across the country last summer, keeping children reading through the ‘Summer Reading Challenge’. Afsheen Bassirian, Volunteer Co-ordinator at the Central Library, emphasised libraries’ flexibility: “Volunteers can share their skills and suggest activities, it gives young people opportunities to gain experience and involves young people in libraries – it’s a two way process.”

Kaye Tew, Director of Manchester Children’s Book Festival (MCBF), also encouraged students to participate: “When we say young people we mean up to 24 years old – there are a lot of opportunities here for students.”

MCBF is another great opportunity to volunteer, running events all year round, which include a travelling storytelling and pop-up poetry tent. The Festival culminates in a Family Fun Day, which last year attracted 5,000 people. The Manchester Met Book club will also be hosting various Reading Hack events throughout the year. Neil MacInnes, now Director of Manchester Central Library, said that he started by volunteering in his local library thirty years ago – so who knows where it may take you…

To find out more about Reading Hack, visit their website or to volunteer, visit Manchester Central Library or the MMU Book Club.

If you are interested in becoming a Manchester Children’s Book Festival volunteer, find out more through ‘Make a Difference’ – the scheme to get students volunteering at Manchester Met.


Bridget Taylor is in her writing up year of the Creative Writing MA and is currently concerned about all the poetry she isn’t writing.

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Bridget Taylor

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