By Beverley Wilkes, a Beanstalk trained reading helper 

I first heard about Beanstalk at the London Book Fair last year when I happened to attend a lecture given by the Read On. Get On. Campaign. I was astounded to learn how poor the literacy level in the UK is, and I felt inspired to help solve this problem by joining Beanstalk.  

Applying to Beanstalk was very straight forward, after a friendly interview I was delighted to be accepted on a two-day training course. The course was easy-going but very informative in helping me prepare for becoming a reading helper – I especially enjoyed playing with the games at the end. It was also great to meet all the other Beanstalk trainees and seeing how diverse the group was.

Beanstalk gave me a choice of schools nearest to me to do my reading sessions in and, after an initial meeting with the school’s Deputy Principal and my Volunteer Coordinator, I decided that I would start the following week.

When I turned up on my first Monday afternoon the Deputy School Principal was very busy but welcoming. As she ushered me over to the classrooms to meet the children I would be supporting, I was worried that I would be barely able to remember their names let alone anything about them. However, my first session was an absolute delight…

One of the girls was absent from school that day so I only had 2 to support. My first little girl was delighted to pick a book from the green Beanstalk box - choosing a picture book that I thought she read rather well. We ended the session with her beating me hands down at noughts and crosses!

My next child was a very nervous boy of around 8 who looked terrified as we walked down the corridor to the large hall where we would be working.

What are you interested in, Ryan*?” I asked

“Football.” He replied shyly 

“Anything else? Do you like books?”

“Nah! Just football”

I rummaged through the Beanstalk box frantically trying to find something with football in the title but with no luck. I did, however, spot a flicker of interest when I picked up a book about working dogs.

“What about this one on dogs, Ryan? Do you like animals?”

“They’re all right”

“Do you have any pets?”

 Ryan* then went on to tell me he had 3 dogs at home, 2 Jack Russells and a Pitbull that was expecting puppies.

As we proceeded to leaf through the book I was astonished to see how many breeds of dogs Ryan* could recognise. Ryan’s* confidence grew as he discovered that he did in fact know quite a lot about dogs.

“I bet I can guess your age?” Ryan said to me as we walked back down the corridor.

“Oh go on then!”


Since that first day I don’t think I’ve ever come away from a Beanstalk session without one of the children saying something that made me smile.

If you would like to become a Beanstalk reading helper then it’s really easy to get involved, I can’t recommend it enough!

*names have been changed