‘I want this escapism for all. Not just those who can afford it’: The Marcus Rashford Book Club

Unsatisfied with scoring Champions League hattricks and fighting to ensure the nation’s children are properly fed, Marcus Rashford MBE has launched a new partnership with MacMillan Children’s Books to promote reading and literacy among school kids. 

The partnership will encompass both fiction and non-fiction aimed at children between the ages of five and eighteen, beginning with YOU ARE A CHAMPION which will be co-authored by Rashford, the journalist Carla Anka and performance psychologist Kate Warriner.

The work will be non-fiction, aimed at 11-16 year olds and centred on themes from Rashford’s life, including “navigating adversity; timing and seizing opportunity; the value of education; positive mentality; understanding culture and female role models”.   

YOU ARE A CHAMPION will be followed by two fiction titles for younger readers. The partnership will also incorporate the ‘Marcus Rashford Book Club,’ a list of recommended reading put together to ensure that all children are properly represented in fiction. The 2021 launch will also include serialisation of YOU ARE A CHAMPION in national newspapers.

Books were never a thing we could budget as a family when we needed to put food on the table

A survey by the National Literacy Trust in 2019 showed that almost 400,000 children in the UK do not own a single book, and the scheme will be focused on getting books into the hands of children from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Rashford himself said: “I only started reading at 17, and it completely changed my outlook and mentality. 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. 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.”

It is hard to imagine that Rashford is still just 23 years old. Since bursting onto the scene as a last-minute starter in Manchester United’s Europa League victory over Midtjylland in 2016, he has established himself as an England regular and one of United’s best players. Rashford scored two that night, then scored two more on his Premier League debut against Arsenal just three days later. Nearly five years on, he is considered a national hero.

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This partnership is just one more example of Rashford redefining the barriers of what a sportsperson can be. His fight against child hunger throughout the pandemic has been genuinely inspirational; listing on his Twitter feed every organisation across the nation offering free food for children felt like a moment of real unity, and forced the government into a U-turn on free school meals.

For World Book Day this year, Rashford agreed to judge a poetry competition for children with hearing impediments. He had to learn sign language to do so.

I want this escapism for all children. Not just those who can afford it.

Tributes to Rashford have been popping up across South Manchester. In Wythenshawe, where he was born, there have appeared banners reading: ‘Rashford 1, Boris 0,’ and ‘A Humanity United #ENDCHILDFOODPOVERTY.’ In Withington, home of Fletcher Moss, Rashford’s old club, the artist Aske has created a mural, featuring a quote from Rashford’s mother: “take pride in knowing your struggle will play the biggest role in your purpose”.      

Others have been less supportive. Tory MPs such as Steve Baker have been quick to suggest on social media that Rashford is unaware of the ‘economics’ behind child food poverty, and countless trolls have predictably told him to ‘stick to football.’ Football, we should remember, is still going well for him: he has seven goals in twelve games this season, including a dramatic later winner away at Paris St. Germain. 

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More worryingly, however, The Mail recently published a story that linked Rashford’s investment in property to his food poverty campaign, as if being committed to feeding children was in any way connected to him wanting to invest in his own family’s future.

Let us hope this is not the start of a vindictive smear campaign, although you suspect that there are only so many times anyone can humiliate a Tory government without encountering some kickback or other.    

Reading can be transformative; it can provide solace, and it is a direct route to the kinds of skills and knowledge that so many children are unfairly deprived of. Once again, Marcus Rashford has stood up as the kind of national figure we so desperately need.     

Featured image: Rathfelder / Wikimedia