A guest blog from Toppsta

Over the last two years we are very lucky to have had ongoing support from Toppsta, which allows parents and children to review, recommend, and find suitable books, as well as organising book giveaways.

Toppsta supports Give a Book with regular donations of beautiful, varied books, which have been invaluable during lockdown for the schools and prisons we work with. Toppsta’s founder, Georgina Atwell, has written a lovely blog about what they have been up to over the last few months:

When I first set up Toppsta.com in 2014, my goal was to encourage children to read more widely and to share their book recommendations with each other. I knew that children would love seeing their reviews published on a website and would be far more likely to listen to a recommendation from a peer, than from an adult.

Today, Toppsta has more than 65,000 book reviews and with no real names, no forums and no photos, we are trusted by parents, teachers, grandparents and librarians for book recommendations for every child, whether they’re a voracious bookworm or a reluctant reader.

One way we encourage children to try new books is by running free book giveaways and whenever possible, the publisher allocates a copy from each giveaway for Give a Book to use in their school and prison projects. We’re very proud of our partnership with Give a Book and the work that they do. We have a similar goal of getting books to people who need them most but we do it in a very different way.

Though we’ve been working with Give a Book for a while, it was only during lockdown that I began to think about how important working with similar organisations is to me, and how a common goal of literacy can bring people together.

The Toppsta community has grown rapidly over the last few years but when we saw Covid-19 on the horizon, we could see that we were in for a rocky ride. Without bookshops and events, how were publishers going to tell readers about their new books? We wanted to step up our support, to use our digital channels to reach readers but we were facing a tsunami of requests from publishers, a massive increase in queries from parents and less available time due to personal childcare commitments.

What we saw happen online was incredible. Authors, illustrators and bookshops were running events; teachers and librarians were answering queries; publishers were thinking creatively about how to market books and everyone was pitching in to help during the crisis.

A bit like the first few weeks with a new baby, those first few weeks are a bit of a blur for us.

We wanted to help but it was a bit like some kind of giant whack-a-mole game, thinking we’d lined up all our ducks only to discover a pub date change, another warehouse closing, or our publisher contact being furloughed. As we grappled with the thrash, we ran daily Twitter chats, added more than 1,000 teacher resources, activities and videos to our website and answered hundreds of enquiries from concerned parents looking for book advice. Our website traffic more than doubled overnight, which was incredible to watch but we wanted to do more.

What we discovered was that parents were over-whelmed with the choice of activities available and feeling inadequate for not keeping on top of things. What they wanted, was a trusted partner to plough through all the resources and events taking place online and create a handy list they could either print off or share. So began our daily schedule of book events a simple diary to help teachers and parents keep children engaged and entertained at home throughout the day.

Part of our job was helping parents understand that in addition to the enjoyment of finishing a good book, writing a book review helps children hone their comprehension skills, expand their vocabulary and think about which books they do and don’t like, which helps them understand which book they might like to read next.

As we juggle childcare and work over the summer holidays, our support continues as well as our desire to keep reading fun. Like previous years, we’re running our Summer Reading Pack to encourage children to keep reading and give them a fun bingo game with activities, plenty of book suggestions and a £25 voucher for Smyths toys to win. We’ve had over 5,000 downloads so far and such lovely feedback from families. We’re very proud to be able to continue our work and are grateful to organisations like Give a Book for supporting our projects.

We hope you’ll join in this summer and download our free Toppsta Reading Pack, including the fun bingo activity. Go to https://bit.ly/ToppstaReadingPack or visit https://toppsta.com for more information.

Thanks very much to Georgina for this wonderful blog, and for the valued support from Toppsta.


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