International bestselling author and illustrator Cressida Cowell has today been unveiled as the new children’s laureate.
The author of How to Train Your Dragon and The Wizards of Once book series has set herself a “gigantic to-do list” to help boost reading among schoolchildren, and says she will campaign for libraries to be statutory in all schools.
She told Tes of the need to unlock children’s creativity through writing. She is proposing 15 minutes of free writing every week.
From the archive: Malorie Blackman is new children's laureate
Read: 'Exhausted’ teachers blame workload for predicted exodus
Ms Cowell said: “You could design your own games, you can write your own story, you can write your own jokes, you can draw your pictures and draw a map – and the teacher can’t mark it. No rules, no marking. Just fun and the kids are just delighted, the teachers I speak to want it as well.”
She was today presented with the silver laureate medal by her predecessor, the children’s author Lauren Child, at a ceremony at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.
Her laureate’s charter includes calls for action so that children can:
- Read for the joy of it.
- Access NEW books in schools, libraries and bookshops.
- Have advice from a trained librarian or bookseller.
- Own their OWN book.
- See themselves reflected in a book.
- Be read aloud to.
- See an author event at least ONCE.
- Have a planet to read on.
Ms Cowell, whose books have been turned into computer-animated blockbuster films, told Tes of her concerns that both pupils and teachers were too inhibited in schools.
She said: “Overwhelmingly, my feeling towards teachers is nothing but admiration, but it can be lowering when teachers come to me and say they used to love teaching but they no longer love it because they have to do this, or tick all these boxes.
“I meet teachers who say they’re thinking of leaving the teaching profession, and I think that is deeply sad that there might be people leaving the profession because they’re feeling so inhibited by all the boxes they have to tick and they know, for example, this kid has an incredible sparky imagination but they’re having to mark them on handwriting and other things and therefore they know the kid is going to be very lowered.”
'Schools have got to have libraries'
On libraries, she said: “Nobody has come up to me with a satisfactory answer to the question that ‘If your parents can’t afford books, and if they don’t take you to the public library, and if your primary school doesn’t have a library, then how are you supposed to become a reader for pleasure?’ The answer for that is, primary schools have got to have libraries at the very least”
Ms Cowell, a mother of three, also said “it doesn’t feel right” when parents tell her that children are “under so much pressure” at school from tests such as Sats.
The laureateship, which has been established for 20 years, is awarded once every two years to a distinguished children’s author or illustrator to highlight exceptional achievement within their field.
Kate Edwards, Chair of the Waterstones children’s laureate steering group, said: “Cressida Cowell’s impressive canon of work, with broad reach and appeal, coupled with her impassioned advocacy for the right of every child to enjoy a childhood rich in storytelling, cemented our choice for the next Waterstones children’s laureate. On behalf of the judges, I extend Cressida our warmest congratulations.”
Read our in-depth interview with Ms Cowell on the Tes website this Friday.