Social media was all a-twitter the other day (see what I did there?) over news that England and Chelsea footballer, Frank Lampard, is to write a series of five books for children, to be published by Little, Brown later this year.
Based on my observation and a highly unscientific survey I conducted on my Facebook page, suggests reaction to the news has been fairly negative – particularly among children’s authors. There have been a lot of “he’s nicking our jobs” comments flying around, and I can absolutely see why. I mean, you don’t see Philip Ardagh playing left back for Arsenal (at least, not any more), so why should Frank Lampard be writing children’s books?
There has been outrage that yet another “celebrity” has been given a pile of money to put their name on a book they’ll likely play very little part in writing, while genuinely talented yet struggling mid-list authors produce quality book after quality book, but can only dream of seeing their name in a national newspaper.
Some commentators – again, many of whom are authors – have already decided the books are going to be laughably awful – lowest common denominator guff without an ounce of literary merit.
And hey, maybe they’re right, but then literary merit often isn’t enough to convince a reluctant reader to pick up a book. In fact, it can be the very thing that puts them off in the first place. I also don’t think it’s productive when us booky people come over all snobbish and uppity, sneering down at celeb-written and TV tie-in titles as not worth the paper they’re printed on.
Barring the odd terrorist manual and the like, there are very few genuinely “bad” books out there. Beast Quest, for example, reads like a pile of old guff to me, and yet they introduced millions of children to the joys of reading.
These are books about football for five-year-olds, written by a big-name football star. Whether he writes them himself or they’re ghost-written by someone not being paid nearly enough, his name will be there on the front cover, and for some boys that might be enough for them to give it a go. From there those kids might go on to read other football books by the likes of Alan Gibbons, Helena Pielichaty or Tom Palmer. From there they may go on to read other books about something other than football, or they might only read about football, or they might never read another book again in their entire lives.
But they’ll have read something. And that’s important.
At school I was a booky kid. I read lots, and actively went out of my way to avoid football in all its forms. These books would not have appealed to me. Some of the other boys in my class were football kids. They could reel off every statistic from the past ten seasons, but steered clear of books wherever possible. Would these books have appealed to all of those kids? Probably not. Would they have appealed to some of them? Definitely.
Whether we like it or not, footballers are role models for vast numbers of boys across the UK and around the world. The success of the National Literacy Trust’s brilliant Premier League Reading Stars programme shows the impressive results that can be achieved by combining football and reading. Frank Lampard’s book deal may help further that good work, and I fail to see what’s bad about that. No, he’ll almost certainly never win the Carnegie (although you never know) but Carnegie winners rarely draw in the sports mad non-readers.
And let’s not forget about the effect all this may have on the perception of writing among boys of a certain age. So many schools I go to are full of boys who think writing is something girls and geeks do, so having a proper footballer who has scored goals and everything talking about his love of making up stories may help to chip away at those particular misconceptions
Yes, I’m insanely jealous of the money he will no doubt earn from this, and of the wall to wall coverage his books have already had this week a lone, but do I resent the fact it has happened? Not at all. New readers brought in by Lampard means more readers in general and I for one welcome that.
What do you think? Is all this idealist claptrap or do you agree with my thoughts on it? Will you be buying Lampard’s books, or avoiding them like the plague? Let me know in the comments below.