Idris Elba takes on storyteller role for campaign to improve adult literacy

He is doing a special reading of a book penned by a formerly illiterate mother.

Idris Elba has backed a new literacy campaign as research found the scale of illiteracy in the UK is being severely underestimated by the public.

The Luther star has written the foreword for a children’s book penned by a mother who was once illiterate and had to make up stories for her children when she could not read to them.

Idris Elba (Ian West/PA)

The book, called The Little Chicken Named Pong-Pong, is a re-telling of the classic story Chicken Little, and is based on a character author Wanda Steward made up for her children when she was unable to read to them from books.

Elba will join in a reading of the book via social media to mark International Literacy Day on September 8.

Elba has teamed up with Project Literacy, a global campaign founded by learning company Pearson and made up of more than 100 organisations dedicated to ending illiteracy by 2030.

Research has found people are severely underestimating the rate of illiteracy in Britain, with respondents estimating the figure to be 2.7 million adults, when more than five million adults are unable to read and write properly.

Project Literacy estimates there are 3.2 million parents in the UK who are unable to read to their children.

Elba said: “Story time has always been one of the most magical and treasured parts of the day for me to connect with my children, but it’s something that millions of parents across the UK who struggle with their reading are missing out on.

“However, more alarmingly, it means tasks most people take for granted become impossible, from not being able to read the label on a medicine bottle to not being able to vote.

Idris Elba (Ian West/PA)

“Sadly, this is an issue that is passed on from generation to generation, a cycle that we want to break. Through sharing Wanda’s inspiring journey, we want to help others understand the importance of investing in adult literacy, which is why we’re encouraging as many people as possible to support us by reading Wanda’s story.”

Kate James, a spokeswoman for Project Literacy added: “By re-writing this story, we want to help rewrite the lives of so many adults who struggle with reading and writing and de-stigmatise the issue of illiteracy through increased awareness,” said

“Globally, funding for literacy programmes is skewed more heavily towards children in primary and secondary school, rather than youth or adult literacy, yet we know that there’s no way for us to break the cycle of inter-generational illiteracy if we don’t focus on parents.

“We need to tackle all levels if we’re to close the global literacy gap in the next decade.”

The Little Chicken Named Pong-Pong will be available for free download from www.projectliteracy.com/rewritinglives. For every book downloaded, Pearson will donate £1 to Project Literacy partners who are helping adults learn to read and write.

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