IT takes a lot to persuade a seven-year-old to leave PE on a sunny afternoon to go and sit in a corner with a book and a stranger.

But whether it was the chance to be photographed for the Oxford Mail, the fact that the PE lesson in question appeared to be maypole dancing or simply my winning demeanour, it wasn’t long before Gerti and I were perusing the book box to decide where to start.

Our first session was more about getting to know each other and introducing the scheme, but nonetheless we managed to get a fair bit of reading done.

Each child gets a reading ‘passport’ and racks up reading miles – 1,500 per session – the idea being that by the end of the programme the reading journey has taken you all around the world.

Gerti was asked whether he wanted to read a book or play a word-related game and he went for a book – a good start.

After dipping into a couple, including Nick Sharratt’s You Choose which we will be looking at later in the programme, he plumped for Babar’s Birthday Surprise by Laurent de Brunhoff.

And Gerti was raring to go.

While the emphasis is on sharing a book, the volunteer reading to the child, the aim is to get the child as involved as possible.

Gerti was keen to begin by reading aloud and made an impressive start, only stumbling over a few words and requiring me to jump in occasionally.

But the book, translated from French, became a bit more challenging with complicated French names which Gerti was unlikely to recognise so we switched back and forth, with Gerti remaining engaged by keeping an eye out for when the word ‘Babar’ appeared.

Prior to our meeting, I hadn’t been entirely sure what to expect in terms of how much help Gerti would need, how quickly or slowly we would get through the text, what level of vocabulary he might have, how responsive he would be or indeed whether he would be pleased to be there.

I found myself surprisingly nervous.

So I was pleased to see when Gerti filled in his reading journal at the end, when asked if he enjoyed it, he said: “Yes.”

As much as anything, the volunteering sessions are about improving confidence – by the looks of it for both reader and volunteer.

l It’s not too late to put yourself forward as a volunteer.

Volunteers need to be over 18, and will need to undergo a check with the organisation formerly known as the Criminal Records Bureau.

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