Today, as every year on this date, a wreath is laid on the tomb of Charles Dickens in the Poets’ Corner area of Westminster Abbey.
But on this, the author’s 201st birthday, we would not be at all surprised if an unworldly, but satisfied, chuckle did not sound from beyond that grave. And, perhaps, a round of applause too.
The clapping would be for all those children in the city of his birth and the surrounding area who have discovered in the past year one of the greatest joys of life – reading.
A year ago, amid the celebrations in Portsmouth marking the great man’s bicentenary, The News launched a campaign. It is called Read All About It and our goal was, and still is, to get youngsters reading any way we could.
It was based on the shocking statistic that one in three children in the UK does not own a book. Twelve months on and look how we’ve done:
n Across the area, schools have seen improvements in reading and writing with six and seven-year-olds achieving higher than the national average
n There has been an eight per cent increase in Portsmouth in the number of children’s books borrowed from libraries. Across Hampshire, which includes Gosport, Fareham and Havant, that figure is five per cent
n Fittingly, Charles Dickens Junior School is the most improved in Portsmouth, with 70 per cent of children getting the expected results for reading and writing – a 23 per cent increase.
Literacy is the key to freedom, independence and happiness and our campaign is the spearhead of this.
Dickens would have heartily approved of our campaign and the way in which it has been seized on by teachers, parents and children. He was not only one of the greatest authors in history but also a social reformer whose indomitable fight for justice helped shape our society. And our fight too goes on.
We pledged to run Read All About It for a year, but it has proved so successful that we will forge on to get as many children as possible to fall in love with the most fundamental of life skills.