Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

15 May 2024

Telling Stories That Help Children Learn to Read | User Stories

Telling Stories to teach reading

Salina Khatun is the founder of Kindle Corner, an organisation that runs free storytelling sessions at the British Library, and across Camden, for children aged 0 – 12.  

I taught for thirteen years as a primary school teacher: education has always been my passion. When London was in lockdown for the Covid-19 pandemic, I’d recently given birth to my third child. I started worrying about children whose parents weren’t teachers, and thinking about what I could do to support disadvantaged kids who were stuck at home. 

I believe strongly in the importance of education, and I know that storytelling creates a love of reading. If you’re creative in your movements and your facial expressions, children will want to engage. So I decided to start doing storytelling sessions on Zoom. Within three days, I had 250 attendees – not just from London, but from around the world. 


I held weekly storytelling sessions 

At the British Library, there’s a space called the Story Garden, which, as a teacher and as a mother, I would use to tell stories to children. After the lockdowns ended, Global Generation, the charity that created the garden in partnership with the Library, asked me to speak to Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, about why the space was important to the local community in our borough, Somers Town. After the talk, I told the director of the Story Garden that I’d be happy to hold weekly storytelling sessions for free, for the local children. We had a good turnout – up to 20 children coming to each session. That was the start of my storytelling organisation, Kindle Corner

In July 2022, the Library asked us if we would deliver sessions based on the themes of their exhibitions, and our relationship has grown from there. I love everything about the Library: it’s a gem, a space where everyone can learn. I’d like to see families using the Library to create a culture of reading for their young children as they grow. 


Group storytelling creates a feeling of togetherness

The sessions are popular because my team is passionate about telling stories. Group storytelling creates a feeling of togetherness for families. Our stories explore topics like visiting the dentist and taking care of nature. I especially like telling stories about emotions: how it’s okay to be happy or angrythe important thing is what you do with those feelings. I like to use humour, and let children take part, so that the sessions are fun. 

We focus on kids under 12 years old. Everybody, from all walks of life, comes to our sessions. We welcome a mix of every group you can think of who lives and works in Somers Town. We hope to raise a community of children that love stories. I believe that this will bridge the gap between children who aren’t read to, and children who come from affluent homes who are read to all the time. Children can enjoy Kindle Corner events even if they don’t speak English. 


We bring the world to children

The government’s 2022 literacy framework states that the two components for success in literacy are that children love reading and learn phonics. Children who don’t do this at an early age will not thrive in the education system and therefore won’t get the results they need to pursue a great career. When they struggle with a science text, or a maths question, they will be left behind. This is why I’m so passionate about what I’m doing. My vision of success is a child in Somers Town picking up a book every single day. 

We bring the world to children. Through a storytelling session, we can teach a child about Egypt; about the importance of looking after plants; about their own hygiene. We’re not just teaching them to love reading; we are planting the seeds of values. We also use the children to bring the adults along. For example, we want both adults and children to know about the concept of recycling. 


We empower a lot of mums

When you’re a teacher, parents don’t like approaching you, because you’re an authority figure. If they think I’m just another mum, they feel they can trust me. But as time is passing and they realise that I run Kindle Corner, that’s great because it’s inspiring. 

I've got a seven-year-old son, and daughters who are three and five. I don’t allow Kindle Corner to interrupt my time with my children in the afternoons. If you run a business or a charity, it can work really well around childcare. We’ve found that we empower a lot of mums. 


Storytelling is a powerful tool 

In spring 2022, I applied for the funding Camden Council offers to community projects, to grow my organisation. When our bid was successful, I was able to hire an administrator and another storyteller. Then we were spotted by the Francis Crick Institute, a biomedical research centre on Euston Road, and they asked us if we could do science-based storytelling sessions for them.

Next, Camden Council approached us and asked us to run storytelling sessions about the circular economy: recycling, sharing and upcycling. Storytelling is a powerful tool to influence and educate people. Rather than delivering a workshop and telling everybody that they need to recycle, we deliver a story showing why recycling is important. It’s a better way to communicate with people. These days, Kindle Corner has a brilliant team of 24, many of whom are volunteers. 

Last year, we started working with Google. They asked me to write a story about myself and my work, and I realised that I’d done a lot in only the first year of running Kindle Corner. We've also started delivering storytelling sessions for families in the Library's Last Word community hub every Thursday. 

As told to Lucy Peters