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Poets urge pupils to make every word count

From the moment you get up in the morning, you start reading - from the label on your shampoo to the search for a jar marked coffee.

But just how many words do you read each day? In Bristol, they start counting next month and 40,000 pupils have been set a target of reading a million a year.

The city council has set up the Read a Million Words charity to inspire five to 13-year-olds to read not only books, but magazines, comics and the internet.

Jenny Perez, project manager, said: "You find words everywhere. Being able to read is about being able to access information, whether that is on the back of a cereal packet or in a book."

Pupils will record the number of words they have read in passports. Their task has been made easier by a wordometer on the charity's website which helps calculate that Private Peaceful by Michael Morpugo, for example, has roughly 58,500 words.

Mrs Perez said: "We don't want children to get bogged down in the minutiae of counting every word. But we hope this will encourage children to read."

Words read do not have to be in English and listening to books on tapes counts for children with special needs.

Mrs Perez said: "We got the idea for Read a Million Words when a group of heads went to Denver and saw it in happening there. It meant every school had an influx of books, there were reading activities which parents were involved in and businesses were involved in."

Bristol has one of the lowest proportions of 11-year-olds leaving school with the expected level 4 in English.

Provisional statistics show that standards rose in the city by 2 points to 69 per cent this year, but that compares to a national average of 77 per cent.

Mrs Perez said: "We hope by the end of the year to have improved reading standards. Schools will be monitoring the impact of the programme.

"We are also working closely with the public libraries and school library service to create more awareness of those services and we want to inspire other local authorities to take the idea on."

The campaign is now raising funds towards buying books and other materials for schools. It has already received messages of support from poets Benjamin Zephaniah and Roger McGough.

Mr McGough said: "Accept the challenge. Be rich beyond compare. You'll get respect if you're a word millionaire."

Mr Zephaniah's contribution was:

"We dance to a million beats We dream a million dreams There are millions of ideas In Bristol so it seems Cool books can make you travel You'll be free like the birds That is why I too like you Shall read a million words."

* Liverpool joins the read-in movement this year, with everyone in the city being urged to read Holes, by Louis Sachar, the story of a wrongfully convicted boy sent to a desert camp to dig holes for some mysterious reason.

The read-in concept started in Seattle in 1998, and spread to Britain in 2002 when Leeds adopted Patrick Suskind's Perfume. Bristol has since taken on Robert Louis Stephenson's Treasure Island and John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids. Oxford and Reading adopted Jerome K Jerome's classic Three Men in a Boat. (This page contains 1,400 words)

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