Marcus Rashford’s book club couldn’t come at a better time – children’s reading is at a 15-year low



It is important that children sees themselves in the books that read.
wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, UCL

England international footballer and child poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford has announced that he is launching a book club. The initiative will distribute books to children, particularly those from vulnerable and underprivileged backgrounds, in order to promote reading and literacy.

Studies have shown us how vital reading – specifically reading for pleasure – is for academic and economic success, as well as for mental health (among other things). Reading, according to the National Literary Trust, encourages children (particularly girls) to dream about the future.

But the number of children reading every day for pleasure is at its lowest since the National Literacy Trust started monitoring it in 2005. In 2019, only 26% of young people (under 18) read every day. Although engagement with books has risen during lockdown, some children have faced greater barriers due to library closures, amongst other things.

Former children’s laureate Michael Rosen has said these findings should act as “a wake-up call for the government”. And we already know that Rashford can cause a stir at Westminster. So his intervention could become a much-needed force for change.

Rashford says that reading and books are cool. Children who own books are more than twice as likely to agree that reading is cool than those who don’t. But what if you don’t have access to books, like 384,000 children and young people (mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds) in the UK? And, more specifically, what if you don’t have access to books that you can see yourself in?

My own research, along with that of the Reflecting Realities project by the
Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, has also demonstrated how woefully underrepresented people of colour are in children’s books and children’s authorship. A few weeks ago, my new BookTrust Represents report was published in conjunction with the new Centre For Literacy In Primary Education (CLPE) report, which tracks the number of children’s books by and about people of colour published in the UK.




Read more:
Five books to read to children that adults will enjoy


Both reports show progress over the past three years (2017-2019): the number of protagonists of colour increased fivefold, from 1% (2017) to 5% (2019), while the number of authors of colour increased from 5.58% to 8.68%.

It is important to stress that these numbers are still very low, particularly when we consider that 33.5% of school-age children in the UK are from ethnic minority backgrounds. There is a long way to go before representation in children’s books and publishing authentically mirror UK society. And it will take collective action to break down the systemic barriers that cause under- (and mis-) representation.

Reaching a wider audience

This is why initiatives like Rashford’s book club are very welcome. In light of my research, I support the book club’s focus on quality inclusive youth literature: books that are authentically representative of the society that we live in. “No matter where you grow up”, Rashford wrote in a statement, “talent should be recognised and championed”.

Books provide insight into a variety of different lives and cultures. They have an important role in holding up a mirror to the world or offering a window into another. What they reflect impacts how young readers see themselves and the world around them. Inclusive books are important for children of all ethnicities and from all socio-economic backgrounds.

This new book club, with Rashford at the helm, will bring inclusive books into the consciousness of a much wider audience. Rashford has already made strides in tackling inequality in the UK and this initiative will help bridge the cultural and educational divide.

Rashford will also co-author several books, in partnership with MacMillan Children’s Books, beginning with You Are A Champion: Unlock Your Potential, Find Your Voice And Be the Best You Can Be, based on Rashford’s life (May 2021). Two books, aimed at children over six, will follow in 2022. This age group is significant because it covers a critical period in academic development where there is often a decline in children reading for pleasure.

Rashford can now add author and cultural gatekeeper to his list of accolades, and, by centring himself as such, will be a role model to aspiring writers and publishers – something my previous BookTrust Represents report highlighted as an enabler for young people of colour to join the industry.

Don’t forget about existing authors, books, and publishers

While this intervention by Rashford is exciting, it’s important to acknowledge the activists, authors, publishers, and booksellers that have been supporting inclusive youth literature for decades. Bookshops and supermarket bookshelves may be dominated by bestselling and celebrity books, but other books, with smaller marketing budgets abound. Here are five of my favourite books for young people (published in 2020), by British authors of colour, to tide you over until Rashford’s book club begins next year:

  1. The Infinite by Patience Agbabi: A time-travelling mystery and adventure by a much-celebrated poet.

  2. When Secrets Set Sail by Sita Bramachari: Another magical book, on a hidden part of Indian history, by this stalwart author.

  3. The Girl Who Became a Tree: A Story Told in Poems by Joseph Coelho: Ancient legends and modern-day grief merge in this book in verse.

  4. Boy, Everywhere by A M Dassu: A beautifully written debut about the plight of Syrian refugees.

  5. When Life Gives You Mangos by Kereen Getten: Another dreamy debut about friendship, loss, and small-town life.The Conversation

Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, Associate Professor of Publishing and Book Cultures, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Amazon Book Clubs


The links below are to articles reporting on the new Amazon Book Clubs.

For more visit:
https://goodereader.com/blog/kindle/amazon-book-clubs-are-in-early-access
https://the-digital-reader.com/2020/09/11/amazon-launches-book-clubs-in/

Book clubs and the Blitz: how WWII Britons kept calm and got reading



Pilots and air crew passing the time with books and newspapers.
S.A. Devon, RAF official photographer/Imperial War Museum

Nicola Wilson, University of Reading

These are unprecedented times – but, even so, comparisons are being made to the second world war in terms of the magnitude of the crisis that coronavirus represents. Some of this rhetoric is unhelpful but, as we bunker down into our homes and the government gets on a war footing, there is little doubt that the challenge to our liberty, leisure time and sense of wellbeing is real.

With early reports that book sales are soaring while bookshops and warehouses close down and publishers reassess their lists, what can the reading patterns of an earlier generation tell us about getting through a crisis and staying at home?

The restrictions at the beginning of the second world war affected all aspects of day-to-day life. But it was the blackout that topped most people’s list of grievances – above shortages of food and fuel, the evacuation, and lack of news and public services. Households were reprimanded and fined for showing chinks of light through windows, car lights were dimmed, and walking around, even along familiar streets, late at night became treacherous.

With the widespread limitations to free movement, the book trade was quick off the mark. Books were promoted by libraries and book clubs as the very thing to fight boredom and fill blacked-out evenings at home or in shelters with pleasure and forgetfulness. “Books may become more necessary than gas-masks,” the Book Society, Britain’s first celebrity book club, advised.

Selling tales

I’ve been researching the choices and recommendations of the Book Society for the past few years. The club was set up in 1929 and ran until the 1960s, shipping “carefully” selected books out to thousands of readers each month. It was modelled on the success of the American Book-of-the-Month club (which launched in 1926) and aimed to boost book sales at a time when buying books wasn’t common. It irritated some critics and booksellers who accused it of “dumbing down” and giving an unfair advantage to some books over others – but was hugely popular with readers.

Boots Book-lovers’ Library flyer, c. 1939.
Boots Company archives, Nottingham

The Book Society was run by a selection committee of literary celebrities – the likes of JB Priestley, Sylvia Lynd, George Gordon, Edmund Blunden and Cecil Day-Lewis – chaired by bestselling novelist Hugh Walpole. Selections were not meant to be the “best” of anything, but had to be worthwhile and deserving of people’s time and hard-earned cash.

Guaranteeing tens of thousands of extra sales, the club had a huge impact on the mid-20th-century book trade, with publishers desperate to get the increased sales and global reach of what publisher Harold Raymond called “the Book Society bun”.

Books will go on

The Book Society guided readers through the confusion of appeasement and the run-up to the second world war with a marked increase in recommendations of political non-fiction examining contemporary geo-politics. The classic novel of appeasement was Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart (Book Society Choice in October 1938) in which a sense of malaise and inevitability of future war haunts the characters’ desperate actions.

When Britain finally declared war against Germany in September 1939, the Book Society judges were divided. Some were relieved that, as George Gordon put it, “an intolerable situation has at last acquired the awful explicitness of war”. But others were devastated, especially Edmund Blunden who was still traumatised from fighting in the first world war.

Book Society flyer, c. 1939.
John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

The judges advised members that when they became weary of news, people “will turn to books as the best comfort”, as had happened in the first world war with the increase in reading and library membership. Publishers and booksellers faced huge challenges during the second world war, including paper shortages, problems in distribution, a vanishing workforce, and bomb damage to offices and warehouses. But there were more readers – and from a wider social class – at the end of it. Demand consistently outstripped supply as consumer expenditure on books more than doubled between 1938 and 1945.

What people were reading

Throughout the second world war, the Book Society varied its lists between books that offered some insight on the strangeness of contemporary life and works of fiction – especially historical fiction – that took readers’ minds off it.

Titles in the first group include comic novels by the likes of E M Delafield and Evelyn Waugh, as well as forgotten bestsellers like Ethel Vance’s Escape (1939) (an unlikely thriller set in a concentration camp) and Reaching for the Stars (1939), American journalist Nora Waln’s inside account of life in Nazi Germany.

Settling down with something to read underneath the arches during an air raid.
Imperial War Museum, CC BY

More topical non-fiction became a priority as the devastation of the Blitz kicked in. Winged Words: Our Airmen Speak for Themselves (1941) and Into Battle: Winston Churchill’s War Speeches (1941) were especially popular.

Historical fiction was consistently in demand. Half the club’s choices in 1941 were long novels with historical settings. As today’s readers prepare to batten down the hatches with Hilary Mantel’s 900-page latest book, it is sobering to reflect on how an imaginative connection with the past has long helped readers find relief from the madness of the present.




Read more:
The Mirror and the Light: Hilary Mantel gets as close to the real Thomas Cromwell as any historian


The other fail-safes in the second world war were the classics. As books already in print became scarce, the Book Society reissued new editions of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina. These were books that Walpole said he believed he could sit down with even through an air raid.

Indeed, Neilsen BookScan has reported a rise in sales of classic fiction as the coronavirus crisis deepens – including War and Peace – as readers use this unfamiliar time to knuckle down to the heavyweights.

You can also join a War and Peace reading group online if you want a bit of company. After the homeschooling, working from home, and everything else. Here goes.The Conversation

Nicola Wilson, Associate Professor in Book and Publishing Studies, University of Reading

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Murri Book Club and the politics of reading for Indigenous Australians


File 20180706 122271 16toi9s.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Australian book clubs are overwhelmingly white, middle-aged, middle-class and female.
Shutterstock.com

Maggie Nolan, Australian Catholic University

Although the 2018 Closing the Gap report on Indigenous disadvantage highlighted the importance of literacy for Indigenous Australians, progress remains slow. But, while reading is widely considered an unmitigated good and a marker of prestige, it is not a simple issue for some Indigenous Australians.

I have been investigating the politics of reading for Indigenous Australians by visiting the Murri Book Club, an Indigenous book club, in Townsville and discussing the role of books and reading in its members’ lives. As one woman told me:

No one ever read to me as a child. The only reading we ever had was church … reading at Bible studies. We had to get hit with a stick to sit still and stop moving and making noises … And so, to me, reading was restrictive, I suppose, and boring because of that part. It was never fun.

One of the concerns for members of the Murri Book Club is that books and reading are linked to the ongoing history of assimilation that, even now, presumes a divide between Indigenous oral story-telling and non-Indigenous literacy. This is why the members of the club show more ambivalence towards reading than might be expected of a typical book club.

Book clubs have been described by scholar Marilyn Poole as “one of the largest bodies of community participation in the arts in Australia”. Current research suggests that these clubs are overwhelmingly white, middle-class, middle-aged and female. Members of most mainstream book clubs are part of what Wendy Griswold has termed “the reading class”, which is small in size but immense in cultural influence.




Read more:
Three reasons why the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians aren’t closing


Reading and power

Janeese Henaway, the Indigenous Library Resources Officer at the library, started the book club in 2011 and introduced me to the group. Janeese was raised just south of Townsville in a town called Ayr. When Janeese was asked to facilitate a book club, it was suggested to her that they follow the model practised by the Brisbane-based Reconciliation Reading Group that has met monthly in the Queensland State Library for over 15 years.

But Janeese was unsure about how to proceed.

I didn’t know at that point how to run the club in a way that was culturally appropriate … I explained that we did not then want to go to a book club and have heavy discussions on Indigenous issues. The group predominantly wanted a light, entertaining and enjoyable experience. Although we’re Murris, we are also readers.

One woman told me she joined the group because she wanted to set an example for her son. While many book clubs operate within an unspoken discourse of self-improvement, it is rare for book club members to be so explicit.

For this member, reading is a cultural resource that carries significant weight. As she tells it, her son is much more interested in (Indigenous) culture and, for him, reading and culture are “two separate things”. She recalls him asking, “Why I gotta read for? I’m gonna be an Island boy, man, when I grow up. You don’t need to read”. For her son, culture is about story, not about reading.

There is a long history, particularly throughout the assimilation era, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being actively prevented from speaking their languages. Members of the Murri book club are aware that policies of assimilation mean less access to oral stories. The imposition and authority of the written word can be seen to clash with Indigenous practices of oral story-telling. A commitment to reading can make some Indigenous people feel that they must sacrifice other cultural values that have sustained them as individuals, families and communities for millennia.




Read more:
Read, listen, understand: why non-Indigenous Australians should read First Nations writing


Members of the Murri book club experience this sacrifice as a cultural compromise. One member, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Indigenous Liaison Officer at a tertiary institution, suggested the solution is more Indigenous-authored texts that record Indigenous knowledge. But he is also aware that the focus on reading has come at a cost:

But these guys … [the others in the Murri book club] I envy them … Like the oral stories are there [for me], but they’re not in that layer that these guys have. And then because of that book, the authority of the book, when you get them old people to talk, they say, ‘Ah, that’s not true. It’s not in a book.’ Only, every now and then, they say, ‘It doesn’t all have to be in a book.’

In response to this recollection of the authority of books as a source of truth, another member responded: “But keep in mind that you were trained in that way … Print had authority over the spoken word.”

Although she loves reading, this member rarely reads the book club books. She comes along primarily for social reasons — for connecting with community. In spite of her love of books and reading, she is very conscious of the fact that books, and the authority of written language, were key tools in undermining oral traditions in her home of the Torres Strait. Indeed, the Murri book club, as a whole, are more aware than most that reading is connected to power.

The ConversationIn their discussions, the Murri Book Club has taken a communal institution so often associated with white, middle-class culture and remade it as a force for decolonising contemporary cultures of reading. It challenges assumptions not only about book clubs, but also about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. While reading can come with significant cultural baggage for some Indigenous people, it can also be a powerful tool.

Maggie Nolan, Senior lecturer in Humanities, Australian Catholic University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.