I was privileged to watch a workshop the other day with a group of children and a couple of representatives from the local library, delivering a session on Bag Books.
Books, I was soon to learn, that are neither books nor bags.
Bag Books are designed to engage children with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities, Autistic Spectrum Disorders and Severe Learning Difficulties in stories and books. The children in the workshop group did not have PMLD or any of the other acronyms – they were there to learn about the variety of services the library offers. Like me, I think they were a bit dubious about the concept when the first story was introduced.
I forget the title, but the story was about a girl in a wheelchair going camping. There was some misadventure with some sausages and a dog. The story is told by a trained librarian, who delivers each ‘page’ of the book to each child in the group in turn. Each page has words and an interactive object – sometimes something to feel, sometimes something to shake and rattle, and just occasionally it’s a string of sausages that causes much mirth and amusement amongst a bunch of far too worldly fourteen-year-olds.
While, like most fourteen-year-olds would be, the kids were initially self-conscious about the actions and what was for them unnecessary repetition, but as the session progressed, that inhibition melted away and they started to really engage with the story and the process. They asked honest and open questions about children with PMLD and other disorders, and at the end of the session they delivered a presentation to a large group about the benefits and the reasons behind the initiative.
I felt myself becoming converted alongside them. The Bag Books were very tactile, brightly coloured and deliberately engineered to stimulate all the senses. If the enjoyment gained by the kids in the workshop is gained by those the books are meant to be delivered to, then it’s a fantastic initiative that deserves wider recognition.
You can find Bag Book’s website, with information on how to volunteer and aid this charity run initiative, here: http://www.bagbooks.org