Increasing literacy participation with free books in homes

Issue: Volume 101, Number 13

Posted: 12 October 2022
Reference #: 1HAX2o

The Duffy Books in Homes programme has been running for 27 years, offering free books to ākonga across the country. St Anne’s School in Newtown is one school delighted by the programme.

St Anne’s School Duffy Books in Homes coordinator Bobbie Smith and programme sponsors at a ‘role model assembly’.

St Anne’s School Duffy Books in Homes coordinator Bobbie Smith and programme sponsors at a ‘role model assembly’.

"We get to keep these books,” says Anshul, who is in the Year 5–6 class at St Anne’s School in Newtown.

Anshul is speaking about the free books that ākonga get through the Duffy Books in Homes programme, delivered by the Alan Duff Charitable Foundation. This year is special as, for the first time in 27 years, the Government are providing an extra book per year for students.

The foundation officially launched the programme in 1995 with 80 schools, 16,000 students and 14 sponsors. There are now 524 schools, 93,000 students and 241 sponsors. In 2007, Duffy launched into early learning and now has 263 early learning services receiving two book offers annually. The aim is to provide books for children who come from households less likely to own books, and to promote a love of books and family literacy through schools and kura. Funding is targeted to these students using the Ministry of Education’s Equity Index.

One school that has been part of the programme for 20 years is St Anne’s in Newtown, Wellington. The school was established 120 years ago and has a diverse community.

Duffy Books in Homes coordinator Bobbie Smith recounts, “We got an email saying, ‘Hey, look, we’ve got this new programme out for low decile schools, would you like to be a part of it?’

“My principal said yes. Then she came and saw me and said, ‘You are now the Duffy coordinator’. I said, ‘OK. What’s that?’ But I soon learnt.”

How it works

The process involves distributing brochures to students to choose what books they want. For junior students, teachers will help them to select books suitable for their reading level. The orders are then put online. When the books arrive Bobbie will create labels to go into the books, which have the child’s name, the fact it came from Duffy books, and the name of the school sponsor.

The books are usually distributed in combination with a role model assembly, where someone will come in to talk about the joy of reading and what they do. Due to Covid-19, the school had not been able to have in-person role models until recently when Judi Billcliff, a children’s writer and performance poet based in Hamilton, came to speak.

Judi Billcliff, a children’s writer and performance poet, speaks to ākonga at St Anne’s School.

Judi Billcliff, a children’s writer and performance poet, speaks to ākonga at St Anne’s School.

“Judi was amazing. She had the children so engaged from the first minute. She had them laughing and she was great. Then the books were taken back to the classroom and given out for the students to enjoy them,” says Bobbie.

This happens three times a year. In terms 1 and 3, students can order two books. Term 2 is sponsored by the Government and usually there is only one book but this year that increased to two books.

Books reward good mahi

As well as the ordered books, there are other books that are given away for ‘Caught Being Good’ awards. These awards go to students, parents and caregivers for Mother’s and Father’s Day, and grandparents for ‘Caught Being a Good Grandparent’ – reinforcing the concept of family literacy. Though as Bobbie says, the award does not have to be for reading skills.

“The awards can be for anything, for example a new entrant sitting on the mat for more than 10 minutes. For seniors, it might be getting the work done on time. It’s anything that stands out as ‘hey, that was a good thing you just did’.”

The students love being able to get the books, and the teachers can see the benefits of them having their own books.

Emily Dickie, a Year 5–6 kaiako says, “I think it does improve their reading skills. Often, they are engrossed in the books in the days after receiving them.”

Anita Tufuga, Year 3–4 kaiako, adds to this, saying, “I think this has enhanced their reading mileage and helped them with new vocabulary.”

Theatre experience

Another activity that is enjoyed is the Duffy Theatre. Every year, two groups of actors travel around Aotearoa to bring the message ‘It’s Cool to Read and Cool to Achieve’. The original shows are 45 minutes long.

Some prior productions have included Duffy Meets a Coggen, Duffy and the Cloakbay Bully and Duffy – Stuck in the Game! As the titles suggest, they centre on the ‘Duffy’ character.

St Anne’s have seen the productions, and had seen one on the same day as when the school was invited to be part of the 25th anniversary of Duffy Books in Homes at Government House. The ceremony had Alan Duff present, but also the actor playing ‘Duffy’. The children were highly excited that they were able to meet Duffy for the second time in one day.

Funding partners are an important aspect of the scheme, as they share the cost of being able to distribute the books.

St Anne’s appreciate their sponsor, Greenwood Roche Project Lawyers, who not only sponsor Duffy books but will also do small office fundraisers to help the school with other costs.

They enjoy being seen as a part of the school, and Bobbie says, “When Judi, our role model, was here the other week, she said it was amazing to see them [the sponsor] because she goes to a lot of schools as a role model and does not often see sponsors at an assembly.”

The entire programme brings joy to students. As Matt Kolic, a Year 6–7 kaiako says, “Duffy Books in Homes provide a great opportunity for our students to engage with new books throughout the year.

“The students have the sense of ownership as they get their books and a sense of responsibility and freedom as they are able to select the books they wish.” 

Awards of books are also given for ‘doing good’.

Awards of books are also given for ‘doing good’.

Ākonga voice

Students at St Anne’s share their thoughts on Duffy Books in Homes.

Blen: “Reading rocks.”

Lina: “Reading helps you learn.”                 

Students love to read and share their reading.

Students love to read and share their reading.

Luca: “Reading is awesome.”

L.J.: “It’s fun to read.”                

Amen: “It’s good and engaging to your brain.”

Juanita: “Reading makes you feel cool.”

Deborah: “Reading makes me want to make my own book.”

Hatesa: “Reading is cool because you can get creative with your mind.”

Aiden: “Love getting Duffy books because they are free, and you always get new books to read.”

Niko: “The free books help me learn new things.”

Mya: “Duffy books are nice because they are new and they are mine to keep.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:03 pm, 12 October 2022

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