“With a unique ability to see the world through a child’s eyes, the aptly named author and illustrator Lauren Child is one of the most influential and innovative writers of her generation. Her creations include the popular picture book series Charlie and Lola and Clarice Bean as well as the Ruby Redfort books for older readers.” – Waterstones
Last week, Lauren Child was announced as the 10th holder of the Children’s Laureate title. This coveted award was first proposed by Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and children’s writer Michael Morpurgo, who wanted children’s literature to be held in the same esteem as adult literature. According to Waterstones and the Book Trust, who run the scheme as a joint enterprise, the role of Children’s Laureate is intended to “promote and encourage children’s interest in books, reading and writing”. The Laureate is the person who agrees to act as the official champion of children’s books on behalf of the nation’s children.
Just how the post can champion the cause of children’s books is a matter for debate. Lauren Child has already stated her intentions to encourage children to write, draw, and be generally creative, echoing the intentions of primary school teachers everywhere. She has also voiced her concerns over the closure of so many public libraries. Of course, these concerns are not new. It has been widely known and accepted for some years that as libraries close, fewer children have access to books, especially those from families with lower incomes, where books are an expensive luxury. So while the position of Children’s Laureate certainly adds a positive voice to the debate, it can do no more than strengthen the argument in favour of fewer libraries shutting, and the hard fact is that libraries are not closing because people don’t care about our children’s literary future, but because the money simply isn’t there to keep them open.
As part of the role of Children’s Laureate, Child will visit schools and children’s events to promote the idea of reading and writing. Sadly, as the award only runs for two years, any author, however well intentioned, can only attend a limited number of such events before the gauntlet is picked up by the next holder of the prize. This next award winner, who may or may not have the same target audience within the vast children’s arena of the book market, will have their own unique take on how to promote the joy of reading to our children. Nonetheless, the role of Children’s Laureate can only have a positive outcome, albeit one with a less far reaching effect than we’d like. If Lauren Child can persuade just a few boys and girls to discover the joys of reading, writing, and the magic of storytelling, then her role as an ambassador of children’s literature will have been worthwhile.
Lauren Child takes over the mantle of campaigner for better writing and wider reading opportunities for children from Chris Riddell (2015-2017). Before them came Quentin Blake (1999-2001), Anne Fine (2001-2003), Michael Morpurgo (2003-2005), Jacqueline Wilson (2005-2007), Michael Rosen (2007-2009), Anthony Browne (2009-2011), Julia Donaldson (2011-2013), and Malorie Blackman (2013-2015).
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.