In July we’ll have a new Children’s Laureate (voting closed yesterday). The position, founded by the charity Booktrust runs for two years. The role of the laureate is to champion children’s books and reading in general.
The Children’s Laureates we’ve had so far have been:
Quentin Blake (1999-2001)
As well as giving talks, interviews, visiting schools, libraries and exhibitions the laureate usually has a ‘big idea’ they put forward during their tenure. Anne Fine’s was for children to download bookplates they could personalise and stick into books. Jacqueline Wilson’s was for a travelling exhibition and Michael Rosen’s for a Poetry Friendly Classroom. I’m not sure what Michael Morpurgo’s was but I know he worked hard becuase his name popped up everywhere.
So far there have been two illustrators, one poet and three writers as laureates. I guess for balance we should have another poet but I’ve nominated Alan Gibbons for #7. Why? Well, he did wirte a book called The Number 7 Shirt but mainly it’s because I feel the laureate should reflect the times in which he or she serves. These are hard times and we need someone who is not only has a good reputation as an author but also someone willing to take a stand. Children’s books are under threat. Libraries are closing, school library services are being abolished, the UK has fallen from 7th to 17th in the world rankings for literacy and unless there is someone willing to speak out and stick up for children’s rights to access books, things will only get worse. Alan Gibbons is the founder of the Campaign for the Book. He is a passionate, caring man who would stick his neck on the line. He won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but he’ll certainly shake the establishment up a bit and that’s what the world of children’s books needs right now.
Philip Pullman would be my second choice with Celia Rees as third for similar reasons.
BTW I have a few big ideas for when I’m chosen, a few years hence:
Every school would have quiet reading time twice a day. The teacher would join in with this, reading alongside her pupils and not doing other jobs.
Every school would have a library with secret nooks and crannies to hide in and comfy chairs and heaps of books. Old ones, new ones, paper ones, digital ones. And for sessions just before lunch – edible ones.
Every school would have an author visit at least once a year.
Any child who cannot read by the age of nine would have one-to-one coaching every day until he/she could read.
All teachers would be required to go on book buying trips & read at least 10 of the books they choose. They’d have a quiz every term set by the kids to test them on what they found out.
Librarians, teachers, parents, babysitters, book groups such as Booktrust, writers, poets and basically anyone who get kids reading will be given solid gold medals at an annual Oscar style ceremony and rounds of applause every day.
Matilda, an avid reader by Roald Dahl illus. by the first Children’s Laureate Quentin Blake.