Friday 27 January 2012
Children from north London got the chance to put Arsenal star Theo Walcott on the spot as the Premier League Reading Stars programme was officially launched on Thursday.
Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall was among those watching as Walcott was grilled about his favourite reads by youngsters at the Gunners' Emirates Stadium.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic Sherlock Holmes stories are currently on the reading list for the Arsenal forward, who is also a published author himself through the 'TJ and the...' series of books.
He said: "I want to get young children to read books because these days a lot of kids don’t read.
"I think we can get hundreds of thousands of young people reading"
- Richard Scudamore
"It’s easy when you relate everything to football, because kids all across the country love football. If I can just get one kid to read more that will make me happy."
The Premier League Reading Stars programme sees players from all 20 Premier League clubs using the motivational power of football to encourage children to improve their literacy skills.
The stars - who include Walcott, Tim Cahill, Mark Schwarzer and Joey Barton among others - set literacy challenges and talk about their favourite books.
The programme has already reached 15,000 children and parents with more than 50,000 books read - but for the first time in 2012 much of the material is online.
Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore said that he hoped the programme would have an even greater impact this year.
He told the audience at the Emirates: "It’s been a fantastic programme which is all about engaging young people with reading.
"We want young people to say 'if Premier League footballers are reading for pleasure then so should I'"
- Minister of State for Schools Nick Gibb
"This is a new era and a new concept. Rather than just traditional books it’s about any form of reading, be it online, a match programme or whatever.
"I think we can get hundreds of thousands of young people reading. Premier League clubs have huge roots in communities and it’s right that they should be involved."
Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for Schools, said he believed Premier League Reading Stars was a "hugely important" programme.
"Nothing is more important to a child’s start in life than to be able to read. One in four children leaves primary school still struggling with their reading and maths," he said.
"Our determination is to ensure that all children obtain the mechanics of learning how to read as early as possible. We want to instil a love of reading as soon as possible.
"In this country we have a low proportion of children who read for pleasure. A half hour of reading per day is equivalent to a whole year's schooling by the time you are 15.
"We want young people to say 'if Premier League footballers are reading for pleasure then so should I'."