EVERY time I shut the fridge door and one of the magnetic letters falls off, I'm tempted to sweep the whole lot clear. It's not as if they are really serving their intended purpose: my son is always game to help spell out the word 'bum' and then fall over in hysterics, but that's about as far as literacy goes.
Then I read this, possibly one of the saddest things I've read this side of Christmas. It was forwarded by a teacher who set her class the task of 'reviewing' a book at home. The child who wrote this didn't have any books at home, so did their level best with the only available thing: a Yellow Pages.
It's been circulated in defence of Bookstart, which most parents of under-fives will recognise as the programme that gives out fantastically well-chosen packs of free books on certain birthdays to encourage the habit of reading. Its government funding was cut by 100 per cent last week, and its future is now uncertain. For children growing up in homes where nobody ever reads them a goodnight story, one more little chink of light is extinguished.
There's a respectable argument that it doesn't really matter. At our local library, it was always the middle class parents (yes, me included) bossily demanding their Bookstart bags: how many of those free books ended up on already well-stuffed shelves, subsidising parents who frankly didn't need them and completely bypassing the parents who did? Maybe we're kidding ourselves to think it made any difference.
But if you look at the wider context, not all of it political, the loss of Bookstart is worrying. Take the round-the-clock temptation of television for preschoolers, which may be a godsend to frazzled parents (again, me included) but arguably doesn't teach language as well as interacting with real people. Add in cuts to local libraries, the one place hard-up parents can get books for free. Then scrap children's right to 'one to one' catch up tuition in school if they fall behind with literacy. Are too many steps on the road to reading now at risk?