Rashford scores again as striker named FutureBook Person of the Year for 2021

Rashford scores again as striker named FutureBook Person of the Year for 2021

You have mentioned that you only began reading seriously at the age of 17. What was the spark that turned you on to books?
I think the reason I hadn’t been able to engage with the books I read as a child was because I couldn’t see myself in the characters, and I didn’t feel like those books were targeted at children like me. At 17 I was introduced to a different type of book: non-fiction that focused on mentality. It was a whole new experience for me. 

Do you remember the first book that got its hooks into you?
Yes, it was Relentless by Tim Grover, who went on to write the afterword for You Are a Champion, which was a great honour. I read Relentless every couple of months and make notes each time to track my progress when it comes to mentality and growth. 

You have used your platform to drive change, not just in the books business, but also around government policy. What made you want to put your head above the parapet in this way?
I grew up in a community that had very little, but always found something, in the way of kindness, to give me. I understood from an early age that I could one day be in a position to speak publicly on their behalf and highlight their daily challenges. If I could help just one family by speaking out, then that was enough to justify any criticism—the reward of helping is always going to outweigh any negativity.

In the past year, you have set up a book club and published your first book: how important is it to you that you are able to spread this love of reading and books?
It’s massive. Particularly for children who are experiencing any level of adversity, like I was, sometimes we just need an escape, and reading can be just that. But we have to acknowledge that for families who are struggling financially, purchasing a book can be a real expense. We also know that for a lot of schools with a high proportion of children on free school meals, there is neither the space nor the budget for a library. 

We had to get creative in making sure we reached those children with books that could not only equip them with tools and resources needed to navigate adversity, but also acknowledge their realities. To let them know that they are not alone, and that this book was written for them, written for every child. Representation is a huge part of the book club and of my own books.

Getting books into the hands of more people is a long-term mission for publishers and booksellers. What more would you like to see the industry do to achieve this?
Well, I think I found a great partner in Macmillan Children’s Books. From day one they were aligned with what we needed to achieve and have thrown everything at it to make it a reality. We knew going into this that there were approximately 380,000 children across the UK who had never owned a book [data from National Literacy Trust research], and whose family did not have a contingency budget for books, they were the kids who were the most in need. So we worked collectively and leaned on my own childhood experience to develop partnerships that would help this mission be sustainable, partnering with Magic Breakfast and the National Literacy Trust to access children most in need, partnering with the likes of BT, which funded the most recent round of book donations, and with W H Smith on my book, to enable a “buy one donate one” scheme, and with all the booksellers who ran their own crowdfunds. There are a lot of people across the UK who want to help and to make a little difference—sometimes we just need to show them how.

This is an award for people making a difference in the book trade, but it is also about outcomes, so I wonder, what does success look like for you?
The actual physical book was always secondary to the bigger picture here for me. Success was getting great books in the hands of the children who truly need them. Books that children could take lessons and tools from, that would help them overcome any challenge they were facing. Success is representation. Success is knowing any child can pick up my book and think it was written for them. Success is having a child read my book and feel that what they are experiencing is not rare or embarrassing, but that we are all in this together. Success is them seeing that I went through all of those same things, and I have been able to achieve my dreams. And success is them wanting to follow up my book with another book, that they see the reward and joy in reading. These were the objectives that Carl [Anka, co-author of You Are a Champion] and I set out from the get-go.
“Recover, reset and keep working hard” is a fantastic mantra, particularly at this moment as the world returns to some kind of normal. How do you motivate yourself to do better, whether in football, being a better person, or in your books/advocacy?
People have always said I’m a good listener. I’m not someone who demands a room. I like to listen, learn, and then form my opinion or response. I’m only 24, so there is still so much I can learn, from so many different people, and I welcome that. Hence the reason I put such fantastic people around me when creating You Are a Champion. This is not me saying I’m an amazing children’s author, this is me saying that it’s always a team effort—without Carl, Katie [Warriner, contributor], Tim [Grover] and Macmillan, there is no book.

If you could recommend one book, which would it be?
Two books I love from my book club are Tom Percival’s Silas and the Marvellous Misfits and Pooja Puri’s A Dinosaur Ate My Sister, illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan.