Primary school pupils from Manchester took to the terraces at Old Trafford football ground this week to take part in a special author-led event to help boost reading skills and combat racism in sport.
Pupils from St Philip’s CE Primary School in Hulme and Divine Mercy Primary School in Fallowfield were amongst pupils at the event which was hosted by Manchester United Foundation and Read Manchester – the city council and National Literacy Trust’s partnership aimed at improving literacy levels across the city.
Award-winning children’s author A.M. Dassu spoke to the children about her Manchester-based novel ‘Kicked Out’ (published by Old Barn Books), which encourages young readers to question harmful stereotypes through the lens of football.
Pupils also heard from Show Racism the Red Card and took part in workshops and activities from spoken word organisation The Poetry Place and the phonics focused Actiphons who bring together sport and literacy.
At the end of the session every child also received a free copy of ‘Kicked Out’ as well as a copy of A.M. Dassu’s World Book Day® 2023 £1 book Boot It! gifted by Read Manchester.
The event follows A. M. Dassu’s participation in the citywide World Book Day celebrations in Manchester earlier this year which saw thousands of books left on tram seats in a ‘read and ride’ giveaway to help spread a love of reading amongst all ages, and saw Dassu visit Manchester Academy, one of Manchester United Foundation’s partner high schools, to give pupils an insight into her stories and writing.
Councillor Garry Bridges, Executive Member for early years, children and young people, Manchester City Council, said: “As a multi-cultural city where nearly 200 different languages are spoken, promoting understanding and empathy between our many different communities is very important to us.
“So too is further improving literacy levels and this brilliant event provides a fantastic opportunity for pupils to hear first hand from an inspiring children’s author about her books that tackle racism and stereotypes direct, using language they can understand and act on.”
This was the first event hosted jointly by Manchester United Foundation and Read Manchester. The Foundation uses football to engage and inspire young people to build a better life for themselves and to unite the communities in which they live, through educational and outreach programmes.
Aaron Liburd, a Primary education officer at Manchester United Foundation, said: “We are pleased to have been working with Read Manchester over the past year, as our collaborative work has really allowed young people to advance their reading ability.
“Encouraging children to read and providing them with free books helps them to learn important skills for both inside and outside the classroom, supporting their mental wellbeing while hopefully fostering the start of a lifelong passion for reading, too.
“Bringing children to Old Trafford for an event such as today’s with A. M. Dassu is so powerful – using the aspirational environment of the stadium can help children to understand the importance of reading and motivate them to pursue their goals both in school and beyond in wider life.”
Kicked Out is the sequel to the Little Rebels Award winning novel Boy, Everywhere which follows a Syrian boy Sami and his family on a perilous journey after they are forced to flee their home in Damascus to escape the Civil War. It is a story which gathered universal praise and award nominations and established author A. M. Dassu as a leading champion of under-represented voices in children’s books. Kicked Out picks up Sami’s story and that of his friend Ali as they adjust to life in Manchester – a story which tackles difficult subjects against a background of friendship forged through football.
A. M. Dassu said: “In Kicked Out I wanted to use the universality of football to highlight the many inequalities often faced by young people. I never dreamed when writing about Sami’s love of Manchester United that we would have the opportunity to host an event at Old Trafford! It is an incredible honour to be able to work with both Manchester United Foundation and Read Manchester to spark conversations with young people about racism, displacement and the power of sport to change hearts and minds.”
Since 2016 Manchester City Council has been working in partnership with the National Literacy Trust on Read Manchester – a campaign to boost literacy levels in the city through reading for pleasure.
Mike Leyland, Programme Manager at the National Literacy Trust said: “At the National Literacy Trust we know how powerful it is to harness sport to drive engagement with reading. Events like this bring together a love of football with author role models like A. M. Dassu to inspire children to improve their literacy skills. When children can read and write well, they have the tools to reach their potential and achieve their goals.”