BLACK Cats star John O’Shea has joined a national campaign to boost childhood literacy.
The Sunderland AFC defender has teamed up with 19 other Premier League players for the drive to use the “motivational power” of football to encourage youngsters to read.
As part of the Premier League Reading Stars programme, they will set challenges and talk about their favourite books, sharing their love of the written word online.
The National Literacy Trust programme targets primary and secondary pupils who are not reaching the expected levels in literacy for their age.
Every top-flight club has nominated a player as their Reading Star, who picks their favourite children’s and adults’ books to create a 40-strong recommendation list.
John, who revealed John Grisham’s The Runaway Jury and Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox as his top books, said: “I like a lot of John Grisham’s books. They might start off slow but the twists and turns that are involved always make you want to carry on reading.
“I think that’s one of the best bits about reading when you find a book you don’t want to put down.”
Pupils who finish the challenges are awarded prizes, while those who complete all 100 will get the chance to win some signed memorabilia.
Any child with internet access can watch an series of unique films in which players – including Arsenal’s Theo Walcott, QPR’s Joey Barton and Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer – set 100 literacy challenges and explain why they picked their favourite books and what they enjoy about reading.
Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, said the latest programme will work directly with 1,000 schools and libraries and reach more than 30,000 young people, with the potential for tens of thousands of reading challenges to be completed.
“Our research shows that a quarter of boys, 28.3 per cent, say that a sportsperson could inspire them to read,” he said. “So getting footballers on board gives us a new and powerful strategy to get boys reading.”
To learn more about the campaign and watch the footballers’ videos, visit www.premierleaguereadingstars.org.uk.
PREMIER League Reading Stars is delivered by the National Literacy Trust and funded by Arts Council England and the Premier League.
Since it started in 2003, more than 100 Premier League players have supported the project, 15,000 children and parents have participated, and more than 50,000 books have been read.
Also, 96 per cent of children who have taken part say they will read more regularly because of participating in the project and 71 per cent say they now read more because they know that footballers read.
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said: “The success of Premier League Reading Stars in encouraging children to read over the last eight years underlines the wonderful power football has in engaging young people. This new online element of the programme is very exciting because it means many more children and their parents will be able to access and learn from the Reading Stars resources.”
The choices of the players’ books ranged from bestsellers to the classics, thrillers to history.
Once again, there are familiar names such as Roald Dahl, JK Rowling, Dan Brown and Julia Donaldson, but the likes of Paulo Coelho, Bram Stoker, Harper Lee and Alexandre Dumas also make an appearance. Three of the players are authors in their own right: Theo Walcott, Mark Schwarzer and Stoke City’s Carlo Nash.