Stroud High School

A-Level student and bookworm Holly Mc Sweeny explains how a passion for reading led her first to work experience and then to a volunteer post at Readathon

My name is Holly McSweeney. I am currently studying for A levels and I am also a profound book lover. Recently I had to find somewhere to spend my work experience week, and searched for weeks for something I would enjoy that was linked to my love of English and reading.  When I stumbled across Readathon, I couldn’t think of a more perfect fit. After reading about their work I wanted to volunteer at Readathon because its goal is so heartening that I simply wanted to be a part of something so inspiring, something which I found I truly believed in – promoting reading for pleasure among children and teenagers to show the way in which childhood reading can not only shape a person’s character, but can provide a few brief moments of pure escapism. Reading has an unparalleled magic and a book can draw a person into a unique world of their own imagination., as Wilde declared: “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines who you will be when you can’t help it”.

Personally, I love every aspect of reading and always have, from  the first satisfying crack of a book’s spine, losing yourself in a blur of words. For me there is absolutely nothing that rivals the feeling of being totally, completely and helplessly absorbed as you fall wildly and incandescently in love with a character composed through an intertwining of your own and an author’s imagination, or that feeling of wonderful terror as you experience a paralysing rush of fear for someone’s life when for just a split second you forget that the monster or villain so grotesquely vivid in your mind is merely a few blotches of ink on a page. Most of all however, I adore the sense of possibility in a book, the way in which a bunch of pieces of paper have the capability to utterly surprise you, utterly move you and even change you as a person.

After working at Readathon during work experience week I found I wanted to carry on volunteering. From day one  I was hugely excited to see how the sponsored reads and books supplied for hospitals were linked in practice; children and teeanagers are given the incredible opportunity to raise money for other children in hospitals throughout the UK,  to provide new clean books suitable to furnish the mobile bookshelves which travel between hospital wards and are replenished and restocked regularly, delivering the joy of reading and a pinch of magic to children in hospitals along with frequent visits from Readathon’s professional story-tellers.

The experience of reading is one to be cherished from a very young age, as a child’s first story, read while they are tucked in bed, slowly falling asleep, is one that in all likelihood they will remember forever. The books a child grows up on help to pave the way for a joy in reading, hence why the idea of reading for pleasure is so important. It is crucial that books are chosen by the reader, as a genuine love of books cannot be forced or conditioned by the expectations or desires of other people.Too many children and teenagers have been dissuaded from reading altogether due to the pressure they experience to read the ‘right kind of book’, to appear intellectual, to read for example, the notorious ‘classics’. Far  better that they read the books they want, and appreciate the true wonder of the classics when they choose to? The action of reading itself will unconsciously provide educational benefits and a wider cultural awareness not to mention nurturing a  love of books. Much to the disappointment of my friends I didn’t read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels – the books of my era – until the age of 16 (last summer holidays), finally conceding to the pestering from friends and family who had read them at a much younger age, but in spite of my age I was nonetheless encapsulated in the world of house elves, dementors and Hogwarts, and ended up reading the entirety of the final book in several hours, reaching the last page at around 4:30 in the morning in denial that the series was actually coming – all too soon – to an end.

The truth is that in reading anything whether it be a picture book, a dystopian teenage novel, a classic or an old fairytale dug out from the back of the bookshelf there will be a story within the pages, a story that will come alive, a story that will inspire creativity and imagination in the reader and a story that will make you laugh, cry, gasp or glow with emotion, forgetting for just a few moments that anything else is real. This is the legacy that Readathon is creating, encouraging reading for pleasure, and reaching all corners of the country to spread this love of reading whilst also using the money raised to bring books to hospitals and brighten the days of children on the wards.  

Holly McSweeney,

Stroud High School for Girls