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After school meals, Rashford campaigns to get UK kids reading

London (AFP) – Manchester United star Marcus Rashford, after forcing  British government to feed poorer children in school holidays, on Tuesday launched a new campaign to encourage kids to read — this time with official blessing.

“I only started reading at 17, and it completely changed my outlook and mentality,” the 23-year-old England striker said.

“I just wish I was offered the opportunity to really engage with reading more as a child, but books were never a thing we could budget for as a family when we needed to put food on the table.” 

Rashford has teamed up with the publisher Macmillan Children’s Books to launch a series of youth-oriented titles, starting with “YOU ARE A CHAMPION” in May 2021.

Macmillan said each chapter will recap a story from Rashford’s own life and will cover topics such as the value of education, understanding culture, and female role models.

The footballer also plans to launch a book club next year, recommending titles on the Macmillan list.

“There were times where the escapism of reading could have really helped me. I want this escapism for all children. Not just those that can afford it,” he said.

This month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government relented anew to Rashford’s campaigning and promised to give free meals to poorer children over the coronavirus-afflicted Christmas holidays.

After one U-turn already for the summer holidays, the government dropped its opposition to extending the scheme over the festive period, and promised to keep it in place over holidays next year.

The government had resisted giving out meal vouchers to tide poorer families over outside of term time, preferring to offer support via its wider welfare system.

But Rashford’s campaign struck a chord with many, especially with Christmas coming up, and the government had been confronted with regular headlines accusing it of being heartless. 

This time, there is no resistance to the footballer’s literacy push.

“It is fantastic that Marcus Rashford is shining a light on the power that books have, and we welcome his book club allowing more children to benefit from the enjoyment which books bring,” Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters.

He was unable, however, to name the prime minister’s favourite childhood book.

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