Image: Alicia Fernandes / Penguin

Image: Alicia Fernandes / Penguin

'Tis the season of goodwill. And, for all but the most curmudgeonly of festive Scrooges, Christmas marks a time for giving. Like mistletoe and family fallouts, charity appeals are fast becoming a fixed tradition. And, with charities across the nation creaking under the weight of Covid, there has rarely been a more important time to support our most vulnerable.

And book lovers, there are plenty of ways we can support book-related charities, whether it's simply donating money, giving our unwanted books to families who can't afford to buy their own, or buying book-themed Christmas presents from initiatives that support people in need.

So if you'd like to have a charitable Christmas with a bookish bent, here a some of the ways you can:

Donate to a book charity

The easiest way to make a difference is donate to one of the UK's many dedicated book charities that seek to provide books to the nation's most vulnerable. The Literacy Trust's Lost Words, Lost Futures campaign, for example, was launched after the first COVID-19 lockdown to provide books and vital literacy resources for disadvantaged children now they've returned to school. For £10 you can gift a book to a child, while £20 supports a young person in secondary school attend a literacy workshop. Visit their website for more details.

Then there's The Doorstep Library, which sends volunteers into the most deprived areas of London to introduce children up to the age of 11 to the joys of reading. Or the Shannon Trust, which teaches literacy in prisons. Or Bag Books, the only organisation in the world which publishes multisensory books specifically for people with learning disabilities.

Or, if you'd like to go a step further and volunteer for a reading charity this Christmas, read our article on how to do so, here.

Donate unwanted books to people in need

Every year, it is estimated that more than 13 million books are sent to landfill in the UK. The Children's Book Project is a charity that distributes “new and gently used books” to children and their families across London. If you have children who have grown out of any of their books, from babies to teenagers, you can leave them at one of the charity's drop-off points across the capital. 

Meanwhile, Books2Africa sends donated books to children and communities across sub-Saharan Africa to “increase the quality of education in Africa… and to extend the life and impact of books by decreasing book waste and increasing book ‘readcycling’.” Just box up your unwanted books and either drop them at the charity's Processing Centre in Canterbury or arrange a collection from your home anywhere in the UK. 

Visit books2africa.org and childrensbookproject.co.uk to find out more.

Adopt a book at The British Library

For bookworms who want to have an ethical Christmas but don't want to adopt another polar bear for an eco-minded friend this year, the British Library may have the answer. With some 150 million items, dating from 3,000BCE to present day, the library offers book lovers the chance to “adopt” a book in need.

For £40, you can choose your favourite book from a list on the website and, in return, receive a personalised certificate and a book-jacket gift card. The money is then fed directly to the library's conservation team which painstakingly preserves its oldest and most valuable material. By adopting a book, the library says, you can support their work and keep these items “free and accessible to everyone, for research, inspiration and enjoyment.”

Visit the British Library website to find out more. 

Sponsor a "talking book" for the blind

“End isolation for blind and partially sighted people with the freedom to read again,” says The Royal National Institute of Blind People of its Talking Book service, a programme that provides access to some 31,000 audiobooks on CD or USB stick to people with seeing difficulties across Britain.

But they aren't cheap – a child's Talking Book costs £1,500 to make, while one for adults is £2,500. All you need do is register your interest in the programme, and the RNIB will sign you up, and suggest ways you can fundraise to reach your goal. A personal dedication can also be added to the book you choose, which will be part of the Talking Book forever.

Visit the RNIB to find out more.

Buy a gift from the Books to Nourish auction

Want to give a friend book by David Nicholls, signed and dedicated? Or a personalised cartoon by the children’s author and illustrator Louie Stowell? How about gifting the budding writer in your life a feedback session with a top literary agent?

Books to Nourish is an online charity auction for all things books, having received a wealth of literature-related donations from authors and book lovers alike. Each gift will be auctioned off until November 22, with all the money raised going to FareShare, the UK's longest-running food distribution and hunger-fighting charity. 

Visit Books to Nourish to find out more. 

Send a book bundle to a vulnerable child

"This year, I'm matching what I spend on Xmas presents for friends and family with donations to this appeal," tweeted the author Adam Kay of The Book Trust's #JustOneBook initiative early in November.

For £10, you can send a book to one of the 14,250 children in the UK who are vulnerable or in care (1,800 more than last year), many of whom could be spending their first Christmas away from their family, according to the literacy charity. 

For £50, five book parcels can be sent to a community foodbank and given to children who might not get a present this Christmas. And £100 will send 10 book gifts to children in schools who've been identified as vulnerable. They offer a range of regular donation packages as well.

Visit BookTrust.org.uk to find out more.

Shop at a charity bookshop

Oxfam, Amnesty, The Salvation Army and The British Red Cross are just some of the biggest charities that sell second-hand books through their chains of dedicated bookshops. If you want to buy a loved one a book, why buy new when you can buy for a good cause. You can go a step further and donate your unwanted books to your nearest one. The process is straightforward enough: just pack up your old books, take them to your local charity bookshop and they will do the rest.

What did you think of this article? Let us know at editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk for a chance to appear in our reader’s letter page.

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