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.
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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.

What should politicians be reading at parliamentary book club? Our experts make their picks


Jane Howard, The Conversation

You might picture a book club around your neighbour’s coffee table, or over beers at the local pub – but what if it took place in Parliament House?

This is the question being asked by Books Create Australia as they open up nominations for their inaugural parliamentary book club. Anyone can nominate an Australian book written in the last five years to their MP or senator, and one book will be picked for all participating representatives to read.

From fiction to essays to poetry, we asked our experts for their recommendations.

Portable Curiosities

For this crowd, I’d recommend Julie Koh’s Portable Curiosities (UQP, 2016). It’s a sharp and funny collection of stories that expanded my sense of what it is to be Australian. On the assumption that parliamentarians skew demographically to my (Anglo, male, privileged, economically secure) demographic, they too deserve a bit of satirical poking with Koh’s delicate and sharp instruments.

What would it be like to be a young, poor, bright woman born of Asian immigrants in our wealthy but extremely expensive cities? Many thousands are living exactly that, and millions are living parts of it. Koh provides a dark yet joyous window on that world. It wouldn’t do our representatives any harm to look through it for a bit.

Recommended for: our Anglo, male parliamentarians.

-Robert Phiddian, English Professor

A Sand Archive

Gregory Day’s A Sand Archive (Pan Macmillan Australia, 2018) deals with perhaps the most crucial issue we face – environmental management – in lyrical mode. FB Herschell is an engineer concerned about how to maintain the Great South Road against the constant shifting of the sands on which they are built.

He selects marram grass to stabilise the dunes, but further research reveals that marram, an introduced species, harms the dunes, seabirds, and native plants. His appeals to reverse this, and all his evidence, fail to shift the local council, but the writings he leaves put on record the value of the environment, and the capacity of scientific investigation to help it heal.

Recommended for: Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley

–Jen Webb, Director of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research

#MeToo: Stories from the Australian movement

Given the fact violence towards women is a national crisis, I would recommend #Me Too: Stories from the Australian movement (Pan Macmillan Australia, 2019), an anthology I co-edited. This book gives an overview of the problem of violence towards women and non-binary people in Australia. Through a myriad of different and diverse voices it points to the insidiousness of sexual violence and traces the roots of this problem to the everyday sexism which still permeates Australian culture. The book also offers ideas about how we might find a way through this crisis and into a more equitable and safer Australia.

Recommended for: Prime Minister Scott Morrison

–Natalie Kon-yu, Lecturer in Literature and Gender Studies

The Natural Way of Things

In Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things (Allan & Unwin, 2015), women who accuse men of sexual harassment or are themselves accused of illicit or improper sexuality are imprisoned and isolated in an outback prison. It’s like an Australian version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Because it reads like a dystopian fantasy, it might be easy to dismiss the novel as “unrealistic”. But it is ruthless in its analysis of the way contemporary news media and gossip cycles still demonise and sexualise women. The novel explores the very different ways women resist or accommodate to their treatment; but it is really about the structures of patriarchy, influential far beyond the confines of the nuclear heterosexual family.

Recommended for: any male politician who says he is sympathetic to women because he is married to one or has daughters.

–Stephanie Trigg, English Literature Professor

Writing to the Wire

I must acknowledge a possible conflict of interest here by noting that I have a poem in this anthology, but Writing to the Wire (UWA Publishing, 2019) is an extraordinarily powerful collection of poems by and about maritime asylum seekers. The anthology includes poems by senior and emerging Australian poets, and work by those who “would like to be Australians”, as the book’s blurb puts it. As the editors write in their introduction, Writing to the Wire is a little like “bashing your head against a brick wall [but also] very much a book of hope”.

Three years later, the editors and the contributors to this anthology — not to mention those indefinitely detained by the Australian government — are still hoping.

Recommended for: the whole parliament.

-David McCooey, Writing and Literature Professor

Hearing Maud: A Journey for a Voice

Hearing Maud (UWA Publishing, 2019) by Jessica White is a beautifully told story about two people living nearly one hundred years apart, and their experience of deafness. The first is the author herself, Jessica White, who suffered significant and permanent hearing loss following an illness at the age of four. The other is Maud Praed, the daughter of the Australian writer Rosa Praed (1851-1935). Jessica looks into the life of this forgotten daughter of a largely forgotten writer and finds haunting parallels with her own situation. The story is an insider’s account of hearing impairment but, more than this, reminds everyone — not least legislators and policy makers — that what we call disability has an interior life.

Recommended for: Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston and the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme Stuart Robert

–Tony Hughes-D’aeth, English and Cultural Studies Professor

Dark Emu

In Dark Emu (Magabala Books, 2014), Bruce Pascoe amasses a cogent case that Indigenous Australians farmed their land, lived in villages, built houses, harvested cereals and built complex aquaculture systems – and how settler Australians wilfully misunderstood this.

Occupying the western Sydney fringe, Ed Husic’s electorate of Chifley has the rare distinction of a border that follows an important waterway (South Creek) and contains significant colonial-Darug contact sites. Western Sydney is home today to Australia’s largest Aboriginal population; the Aboriginal Land Council is the largest non-government land holder; and some 46 Indigenous organisations are working to sustain their community.

Recommended for: Ed Husic, MP for Chifley

–Heidi Norman, Social and Political Sciences Professor

hope for whole: poets speak up to Adani

It’s hard to go past The Swan Book (Alexis Wright) for its testimony regarding the climate crisis and the NT intervention, and Jess Hill’s new book See What You Made Me Do on the endemic of domestic abuse. But I’m settling on hope for whole: poets speak up to Adani (Plumwood Mountain, 2018) featuring many of Australia’s finest poets. Anne Elvey and Plumwood Journal: An Australian Journal of Ecopoetry and Ecopoetics hosted Poets Speak up to Adani Day of Action in 2017, an event during which poets poemed protests at Adani for 12 hours. The resulting anthology is even more pertinent post-Federal election, and the recent diplomacy fail in Tuvalu.

Recommended for: all parliamentarians who support the mine or seem soft on climate action.

–Meera Atkinson, Creative Writing Lecturer

No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison

Reading expands our capacity for empathy. It forces us to exercise our ethical imagination by putting ourselves into somebody else’s situation; particularly somebody who may be unlike us in the way they think, speak, or feel, or in the situations that they face. No Friend But the Mountains (Pan Macmillan Australia, 2018), Behrouz Boochani’s work of prose poetry, sent out in text messages from Manus Island, bears witness to death, torture and traumatic deprivation. It asks its reader not to treat the fresh hell it narrates as an anomaly but to understand “Manus Prison” as part of a system of oppression and injustice that is far larger, and ongoing. But to learn from Boochani’s text, the reader must give themselves to the work, and read with generosity.

These values may be of assistance to all members of the parliamentary book club.

–Camilla Nelson, Media ProfessorThe Conversation

Jane Howard, Deputy Section Editor: Arts + Culture, The Conversation

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

A Year of Books Fail?


Has the Mark Zuckerberg book club, ‘A year of Books,’ failed? The link below is to an article that considers this question.

For more visit:
http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2015/jan/15/mark-zuckerberg-book-club-opens-disappointing-first-chapter