Joey Barton's love of Bram Stoker's Dracula and Paul Scharner's recommendation of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas stand out in a list of Premier League footballers' favoured reads. The recommendations – which cover a children's book as well as a read for adults, leading Theo Walcott to recommend T.J. and the Hat-Trick, by... Theo Walcott – have been made as part of the Premier League Reading Stars programme.
The programme, which is sponsored by the Arts Council and the National Lottery as well as the Premier League and which will be launched by Walcott and the Duchess of Cornwall at Emirates Stadium today, aims to encourage children to improve their literacy skills by emulating their footballing heroes. It was launched in 2003 and will work directly with 1,000 schools and libraries, reaching 30,000 children. Barton and Scharner's recommendations will presumably be appreciated by any parents hoping their children will, once grown up, aim higher than the ouevres of Dan Brown, Paulo Coelho and David Beckham.
Jonathan Douglas, the director of the National Literacy Trust, said: "Our research shows that a quarter of boys say that a sportsperson could inspire them to read. So getting footballers on board gives us a new and powerful strategy to get boys reading."
Each Premier League club has nominated a player as a "Reading Star", providing 40 recommendations for children to consider. The website www.premierleaguereadingstars.org.uk offers videos of the players setting literacy challenges and explaining why they picked their favourite books. Prizes are on offer for children who complete the challenges in question.
The Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, said: "The success of Premier League Reading Stars in encouraging children to read over the last eight years underlines the wonderful power football has in engaging young people."
Familiar names among the players' recommendations include Roald Dahl, JK Rowling, and Julia Donaldson. In fairness to Walcott, two other players, Fulham's Mark Schwarzer and Stoke City's Carlo Nash, also recommend books they have (co)-written themselves. Schwarzer offers young readers Megs and the Vootball Kids; Nash's read for adults is Family Adventures in Style, written with his wife.