A love of reading will change a child’s life

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Minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort. These are not our words, but those of arguably the greatest son of Portsmouth.

In his powerful use of the English language, Charles Dickens encapsulates in one short sentence the challenge to all of us to strive to improve ourselves in life.

This great man of letters knew beyond doubt the value to the individual – and to his or her community – of an active, inquiring mind.

That he himself was blessed by genius is beyond doubt.

But today, as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Dickens in Old Commercial Road, we recognise also his determined drive to improve himself – a sense of purpose that made him not only one of the greatest authors in history but a social reformer whose indomitable fight for justice helped shape the society in which we live today.

And how better to learn and improve oneself than through reading? It empowers the mind and enriches it. And knowledge, as someone other than Dickens observed, is power.

So we have no more fitting way of continuing the legacy of Dickens on this day in history than launching a major new reading campaign for the young people of this area.

We launch the Read All About It challenge in co-operation with schools across the area as a practical way of giving children every opportunity to develop and take benefit from a love of books.

That is a blessing that any child will carry for a lifetime.

As Sandra Miller, one of the head teachers involved, says: ‘Reading changed my life – and I want the same for all the children at this school.’

We know that Dickens would share that sentiment. In his day, far fewer children had free access to books.

Nowadays, there is hardly a youngster who is ill-placed to develop a true love of reading.

That is the challenge today as we mark the 200th anniversary of a son of Portsmouth who used words to change the very world in which we live.