Background to the Global Network for Early Years Bookgifting


Early Years Bookgifting programmes, with a health sector lead or partnership, developed in the early 1990s in the USA and UK. In the UK this was BookTrust’s Bookstart programme, which also included key library partnerships. Bookstart spread to Europe and East Asia after the year 2000. At that time early years bookgifting programmes developed in Canada, Australia and elsewhere. European organisations met through EU Read; also through occasional conferences by EU Read members in the UK and in Germany; and we aligned more globally through BookTrust’s previous Bookstart Affiliate scheme. There is strong awareness of the value of sharing experience as peers – to foster innovation, excellence and resilience. These organisations have also helped advise nations beginning new programmes – which has been taking place across Nordic, Baltic and Central European countries from 2015. All this has led to this new initiative to share globally, using the digital opportunities now available to us – and in due course we hope also to meet in person.

Wendy Cooling, founder of Bookstart in the UK

Bookstart in the UK was founded by Wendy Cooling. There are few more beloved people in the world of children’s books, and her passing in June 2020 is mourned by authors, illustrators, publishers, librarians, teachers and colleagues. Wendy was inspirational, and she traveled around the world to talk about Bookstart, which she pioneered 28 years ago, and inspired many similar programmes. 

‘If we hadn’t met Wendy, millions of babies born in Japan wouldn’t have received Bookstart packs and enjoyed sharing books. Your love is passed down to so many people and is circulating around the globe. Thank you, Wendy.’ Izumi Satou, Bookstart Japan

‘Wendy Cooling visited Korea in 2003 and shared her experiences and lessons of British Bookstarts. I deeply mourn for the death of Wendy Cooling. May she rest in peace.’ Ahn Chan-soo, Bookstart Korea

‘What sad news about Wendy Cooling. I met her once. She was a special lady. She has given us an important assignment with the Bookstart program.’ Marijke Bos, Boekstart Netherlands

‘Wendy visited Stiftung Lesen in Germany in 2013, during which our Institute for Reading and Media Research had organized a major international Early Literacy conference at the Leipzig Book Fair. Twenty countries presented examples of early literacy at the conference. Despite all differences, the participants identified a central unifying element, a red thread that runs through all the projects to this day: The Bookstart idea, which Wendy Cooling established in England over 28 years ago. Bookstart is the basis for many worldwide projects that exist today; the concept of the nationwide Lesestart program in Germany is also based on Wendy’s innovative idea. We will miss her.’ Sabine Bonewitz, Stiftung Lesen

The network thanks Wendy Cooling