Rap star backs reading campaign

Renowned rap star Harvey claims that aspiring pupil rappers are eager to expand their vocabulary, but are being discouraged by their teachers'

reading recommendations.

The 27-year-old So Solid Crew member, who is currently starring in the West End musical Daddy Cool, believes that pupils judge the quality of rappers by their choice of words.

"A rapper is a poet," he told The TES. "If you listen to someone like Eminem, you can tell they've studied books. Kids know that. They pick up on your lyrics and know how deep your mind is. When you're clever with words, you get a real buzz out of it. And reading helps you do that. You have to educate your mind. Reading is knowledge, and knowledge is power."

But, he says, he rarely liked the books his teachers at St Mary's Catholic primary, in Battersea, south London, chose for him. "Schools force too much on kids. Teachers used to force ridiculous books on us, something stupid that didn't have any relevance. It makes reading very uncomfortable. It feels like a punishment.

"If kids could choose what they studied in English class, it might be more interesting for them."

Harvey is among five celebrities lending their names to Star Reads, a new campaign launched to coincide with black history month in October.

Each celebrity is depicted on a poster recommending their favourite book.

For example, Keisha White, the singer, suggests that pupils read Bling, by Erica Kennedy, the story of a young singer. TV presenter Reggie Yates recommends boxer Muhammed Ali's autobiography, The Soul of a Butterfly. And Harvey suggests that pupils read Boyz To Men, by Yinka Adebayo, a story of gangs and friendship, and World Team, by Tim Vyner, which describes the differing experiences of football fans around the world.

In fact, football played a key role in his own early reading: at the age of seven, he would religiously read the sports pages of The Sun, looking for match reports.

But he was also inspired by Mrs Hodge, a teacher at St Mary's, who took him to see a play called Black Heroes, profiling talented black personalities.

"I'm not into the whole race thing," he said. "But people like to look up to people they can relate to. Naturally, a black kid can relate to my way of living, the way I was raised."

The new reading campaign was launched by multicultural bookshop Passionet, and is supported by the National Literacy Trust.

Natalie Smith, managing director of Passionet, said: "There are a lot of different races who aspire to black and urban culture. So I felt we needed to put the bling back into reading.

"These celebrities didn't get where they are without reading, without being educated. Reading gives you knowledge and insight into life."


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