Christmas is just around the corner and many of us have already started trawling shops for presents for our family and friendsThis is why we at Beanstalk and Story Starters believe it is the perfect time to remind everyone about the wonderful gesture of giving a book to children this Christmas! In fact, a book not only provides joy and entertainment for many evenings to come, but it can also be really important for a child's development and progress future reading skills.

Our programme, Story Starters, trains and supports volunteers to help children aged 3-5 start primary school ready to read. We have experienced how important it is to introduce children to books at an early stage in life because this can open up their lives to the magic of stories and provide crucial language development in a fun way. Being aware of this, we encourage everyone to give #TheBestGift this Christmas by buying (or donating a book you loved - books never lose their value) a book for the children in your family or group of friends. To give you some inspiration we have gathered a list of books that the Story Starters volunteers and staff love to share with children. 

Alison – Story Starters volunteer: My favourite book to read with nursery children has been Dear Zoo. They love the simple repetition and they enjoy being “hands on” with opening the flaps in the book. One child enjoyed making a joke about what was in the boxes from the zoo and would love to muddle up the animals. One child couldn’t name all of the animals, but after repeating the story every few weeks her vocabulary has really improved. 

Helen - Regional Director of The Dollywood Foundation UK: One of December's book selections for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library is Mister Magnolia by Quentin Blake. Originally published in 1980, this is a truly joyous book with that instantly recognisable style of fabulous illustration that Quentin Blake is known for. The story follows Mr Magnolia who only has one boot. He has wonderful adventures all involving words that rhyme with boot, such as splashing down a shute, his pet dinosaur, an amazing brute, juggling with fruit and so on. It remains a regularly chosen book at bedtime by my 7 year old, even after many years of reading it. Mr Magnolia always makes us laugh and the excitement at the end when he is sent a new boot is wonderful!  I really hope all the children receiving Mister Magnolia in December enjoy it as much as I have.

Margaret - Story Starters volunteer: The nursery children I support and I have been looking at You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart. This book allows the children’s imagination to run riot! They get to imagine where they would like to live, sleep, who would be their family and friends etc. The options are incredible! Choosing is fun and can be different every time you read the book. It really gets the children involved and gives great opportunities for introducing new vocabulary. In addition, the illustrations are wonderfully detailed. I have yet to finish the book as the discussions about each page are extensive! 

Story Starters volunteer Pauline agrees: I really like You Choose by Pippa Goodhart because it opens all kind of conversations and stories from the children just by talking about the objects on the page. It is great to see and hear their imagination embroider stories, with very little words in the book. 

Isobel – Story Starters volunteer: I enjoy reading My Big Shouting Day by Rebecca Patterson, and the children seem to enjoy this story. Whether they identify with the character, Bella, having an "off day" I am unsure. The illustrations are bright, clear and detailed without being too involved. There is enough detail to discuss what is depicted on each page and the characters are people that children can easily identify with. The activities that Bella engages in are also relevant to the reader and listener.

Helen Regional Director of The Dollywood Foundation UK: For the over fives, I've just finished reading Varjak Paw by SF Said. I read this to my 9 and 7 year olds over a number of nights. We were totally gripped and desperate to know what happened. Varjak Paw is a small Mesopotamian blue cat who lives with his family in the Contessa's house. Varjak has a brother called Julius, who is always making fun of him. When a large gentleman and two mysterious black cats enter the house, Varjak and his grandfather, Elder Paw, know that something is wrong. The family is split apart, leaving Varjak to embark on a quest to the city for help. Using a form of secret cat martial arts called "The Way" handed down from his ancestor, Jalal Paw, the kitten must make his way through the city and overcome obstacles such as dangerous dogs, gangs of cats, and the mysterious "Vanishings". This was one of our best family reads for 2018 and we're really hoping Father Christmas brings us the sequel!  

You can apply to become a Story Starters volunteer here 

You can find out about other Beanstalk voluntary programmes here