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Daniel’s Reading Heroes Volunteer Story – “I don’t think she’s had anyone reading aloud to her in the way that I do it.”

Written by Lily Kehoe, 25th March 2024

Reading Heroes matches volunteers to read with care experienced children and young people in order to spark a life long love of reading and to help improve the children’s confidence and well being.  We read with children in foster care, in kinship care with extended family and those who are being supported by Early Help teams who are aiming to keep families together.

With the number of care experienced children in the UK growing and the research telling us that they are more at risk of social, emotional and mental health problems, Reading Heroes is a more important project than ever.

Daniel, a retired teacher, reads over Zoom with two siblings: an eight-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy. Both enjoy reading aloud to Daniel, though he still gives them the choice of listening to him read if they prefer. Kerry is their foster carer.

There are online and in-person opportunities to volunteer with Reading Heroes


Daniel: Both of them are responding very, very positively to the idea of reading for joy. The girl particularly responds in a remarkably happy way. I mean, her happiness just beams out of her. This is her time to shine, as a reader, and also within the reading relationship that we have. Although she probably does read elsewhere, I think she has the freedom to expand in her imagination when we read aloud together. I do occasionally step in – I explained to her why italics were used, and now when she comes across italics she loves it because she has the opportunity to express herself in a much more defined way. She sometimes says, ‘I’m going to have another go at that!’ It is a great joy working with her because it starts as a pleasure and it goes on into something else. That’s what fantastic narrative can do – it can engage and allow the child to relate emotionally to the characters and to the situations. We’ve been reading the Ariki series by Nicola Davies (illustrator Nicola Kinnear). We both enjoyed the first one so much we thought we’d read the second one, so now we’re on Ariki and the Island of Wonders. We spend quite a lot of time looking at the illustrations as well because they’re quite highly detailed, and there’s a lot of nice little features that you can refer to.

Kerry: When she has to read a schoolbook in school, she’s not really fussed. But reading with Daniel has helped with her confidence. I know she’s seems outspoken and bubbly, but she is quite insecure inside.

Daniel: I enjoy reading and tend to dramatize my reading. I don’t think she’s had anyone reading aloud to her in the way that I do it. And for her specifically, and I think for others I’ve read with as well, they’re given a green light by my way of reading. They suddenly think, ‘Oh right, I can have a go at that!’ And then, of course, when they feel confident enough to have a go themselves, then I will react, or overreact in order to encourage them. Making them feel good about how they made me laugh. I’ll react to some moment of horror or something that’s happened in the story and then they feel encouraged to do even more. That’s the pleasure of reading a book aloud. But then all that pleasure found within books does lead us on, into a world of relationships, understanding and identification, and engagement in imagery and metaphor and philosophy.

Volunteers know that the hardest part of their work comes when the Reading Heroes placement comes to an end after six months, and the mutually rewarding weekly contact must cease. The project has been designed to ensure that the relationships which develop operate within clear boundaries at every stage. One consoling thought is always that although the volunteer placement might come to an end, the young person is left with a relationship with books that will last them a lifetime. The books will always be there. Daniel spoke about another aspect of the partnership that endures:

Daniel: In a child’s experience of the adult world, which certainly for many looked after children may be a frightening, bleak and dark one, the relationship with a Reading Heroes volunteer has a beginning, middle and end – a bit like a story. It is an opportunity for a relationship that, beginning to end, is wholly positive and wholly good. They can take that with them, and put it in that secret, special place where they put wholly good things.


This is an extract from an article which first appeared in issue 76 of The Reader Magazine.

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