Access to and demand for contemporary children’s picture books among ESL parents in London: A Survey

In 2013, Pop Up Projects CIC surveyed over 100 London parents – originally from 22 different countries – for whom English was not the first language about their language abilities, reading habits and access to and demand for contemporary children’s picture books in languages other than English.

In September 2013, Pop Up Projects CIC undertook research into the provision of, access to and demand for contemporary children’s picture books among diverse parents for whom English is not the first language. 106 parents from 22 different countries of origin, aged between 26 and 50, were surveyed in eight primary schools in three London boroughs (Hackney, Islington, Camden), with respondents completing surveys on paper consisting of 28 questions, and which had been translated into eight different languages (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Bangla, Somali, Yoruba, Twi). The survey was organised into three sections:

  • Demographics: age, gender, country of origin, number of children
  • Language: home languages, ability (of parents and children) to speak and read in home languages, reading habits in home languages and English
  • Books & Reading: access to and interest in children’s books in languages other than English

89% of respondents were born outside of the UK, and stated that they 'speak (their) home languages the most'; and 76% agreed they communicate orally in their home language 'the most' with their children - with the highest three groups who stated this being Turkish (16%), Somali (12%) and Spanish (7%). However, a substantially large percentage of respondents also 'speak English very well’ (65%) and 'read English very well' (66%), with a further 24% considering themselves 'okay' at speaking English, and 21% 'okay' at reading English - indicating that a majority of respondents are fluent in their home languages but also competent at speaking and reading English. The surveyed parents also perceived their children as able to speak English 'very well' (82%) and 'okay' (16%), and read English 'very well' (78%) and ‘okay’ (10%).

The value this sample group of parents placed on the importance of reading books in the home appeared to be extremely high: 96% said they have 'children's books in English in (the) home', 76% claimed to read books with their children 'very often', while 96% 'would like to read more books with (their) children'.

In contrast to these perceptions of their children's English literacy skills, almost half of respondents perceived their children as not able to 'read very well' (33%) or 'at all' (12%) in their home language. And a clear majority (95%) wanted their children ‘to read better’ in their home language, with a similarly high percentage (85%) wanting children's books in that language in the home. 38% said they did not currently have books in their home language in the home; a total 67% were unaware of children's books in their home languages being available in the schools their children attend (analysis of the 33% who were aware of books in their schools showed that all spoke European languages with the exception of Turkish), while 87% 'would like to have more children's books in (their) language in school''. A further 83% said they 'would like to buy children's books in (their) home language' from a range of sources, with schools ranking first, followed by libraries and bookshops.

These results depict a broad sample of mainly migrant, bilingual parents as placing considerable value not only on books and intergenerational reading in the home, but also on opportunities for their children to connect with their home language/culture through reading and writing. This research represents the first step in evidencing demand for books in diverse languages, and for access to those books - both for sale and to loan - to be facilitated via schools and libraries.

For more information contact Franziska Liebig on

Pop Up Projects CIC, and

Citation details for the survey: Pop Up Projects CIC, ‘Access to and demand for contemporary children’s picture books among ESL parents in London: A Survey’. London, September 2013.