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Stars? Bring them to book

Celebrities promote National Year of Reading.

Daytime TV doyen Richard Madeley would sign up Formula One superstar Lewis Hamilton in the cause of reading - if he could catch up with him.

Richard and his wife Judy Finnegan's Book Club has made hits out of many previously unknown novels and now he believes one way to entice reluctant young readers would be to exploit their love of celebrity.

"If celebrities such as Lewis Hamilton come on the show and say what a difference reading has made to their lives, we can use them as a shining example," he said.

Mr Madeley was one of the guests invited to 10 Downing Street this week by Gordon Brown and Ed Balls for the official launch of the pound;3.7 million National Year of Reading. Top children's authors Anthony Horowitz and Michael Morpurgo jostled for their hosts' attention alongside Channel 4 chatshow host Mr Madeley.

Ministers are keen to counter bad publicity surrounding the results of the Pirls international reading survey last year, which revealed that British children had slipped from 3rd to 19th position in reading in just five years.

The news that 40 libraries were closed down during 2007 has also proved embarrassing for the Government.

Gordon Brown said the new drive, starting this month, could prove one of the Government's most effective initiatives.

"It's probably one of the best anti-poverty, anti-deprivation, anti-crime, anti-vandalism policies you can think of," he said.

Inevitably, schools are expected to play a large part in this year's efforts to boost reading among children and adults.

Michael Morpurgo, author of more than 100 children's books, made a plea to Ed Balls, Children, Schools and Families Secretary, to allow for teachers to spend at least 30 minutes at the end of each day reading with pupils. And the aim should be pure fun, not formal learning. "The focus on phonics is useless if you don't have that enjoyment first." Mr Morpurgo said.

"Most children are not getting it anywhere else. Teachers are knackered at the end of the day and would appreciate it too."

The Government insisted that more time would be made for reading in primary schools after a forthcoming review of the curriculum. But just how much freedom teachers would have is not yet known.

A TES survey last year found that half of Year 6 teachers had reduced reading aloud activities in the past five years, largely due to tests and curriculum constraints.

Ed Balls has reiterated his wish that parents spend more time reading with their children and he called on schools to play a more active role in getting them involved.

"One of the problems is some parents don't speak English, so we need to get brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts involved as well," he said.

School librarians told Mr Brown they hoped the year might raise their profile and convince headteachers that qualified and enthusiastic staff were vital.

Laura Taylor, librarian at London City Academy in Bermondsey, south-east London, said: "There are some heads who think they can just put computers in instead."

Mr Madeley also called on Mr Brown to support a labelling scheme, already backed by WH Smith, to help confused parents identify appropriate books.

And what of the politicians themselves? Could they set an example to parents and children with their reading habits?

When asked which was the most recent novel he had read, Ed Balls seemed a little embarrassed. A trip to his in-laws over New Year led him to devour Enid Blyton's Adventurous Four, he said. It was his second reading of the old- fashioned tale - his first being at the age of seven.


The National Year of Reading is being promoted as a year-long celebration of literacy, targeting all age groups, and reluctant readers in particular.

From April, it is hoped that schools, colleges, libraries, local authorities and private companies will hold a bonanza of reading events and initiatives based around different monthly themes.

Organisers are keen to stress that reading books is only a small part of literacy, and that the year will embrace everything from novels to newspapers, poetry, plays, text messages and blogs. The National Literacy Trust has been allocated some of the overall pound;3.7 million fund to run the campaign on a local and national level.

Companies will be encouraged to transform their old smoking rooms into mini-libraries.

The whole campaign will be run by a network of local co-ordinators. Schools are being urged to sign up over the next couple of months. They are also being encouraged to form links with local libraries and join the Reading Connects programme, an existing scheme that aims to develop a "whole-school reading culture."

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