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New laureate supports TES campaign

Award-winning author Michael Morpurgo speaks out against the 'cold hand of literacy', saying joy must come first. Heather Neill reports

The newly-appointed children's laureate, Michael Morpurgo, has spoken in support of The TES Target Creativity campaign.

Taking up his post on Wednesday, he said: "Whatever I can I'll do to help.

Beware the cold hand of literacy. It can freeze the joy out of reading. Let us speak more of literature than literacy. Analysis of books is fine, but pleasure and joy must come first."

The author of 97 books, winner of several awards (including, in 1995, the Whitbread Award for The Wreck of the Zanzibar and, in 1996, the Smarties Prize for Butterfly Lion), Michael Morpurgo is the third children's laureate.

Like his predecessors, illustrator Quentin Blake and novelist Anne Fine, he will hold the post for two years.

Mr Morpurgo invented the laureateship with his friend, the then poet laureate Ted Hughes, in 1997. Children suggest names of favourite authors to the sponsor, Waterstone's. Then relevant bodies, such as the International Board on Books for Young People, the Federation of Children's Book Groups and librarians' organisations, are consulted and a final decision made by a panel of distinguished people, this year chaired by the editor of Private Eye, Ian Hislop.

In an interview in today's Friday magazine, Mr Morpurgo advocates that a course in children's literature should be a compulsory component of teacher training, and suggests that every child should leave primary school with a folder celebrating his or her creative work, "all the writing, music, art and drama they have done. A child needs to say, 'This is me'."

As he takes up his new challenge, he has gamely agreed to attempt a national test paper despite his claim that, unable to write to time, he is bound to fail.

With visits to schools and literary festivals already crowding his diary for the next few months, Mr Morpurgo says: "What I most want to do is enthuse teachers as readers and writers, to do these things, enjoy them and then teach. I don't think you can teach something well unless you do it and love it yourself."

Meanwhile, he is looking forward to the publication by Collins this autumn of Private Peaceful, a gentle, moving but tense account of the life of a First World War soldier condemned to death for cowardice. It is an example of the kind of book he likes, "a story in which to lose yourself".

News 6,7 Michael Morpurgo, Friday magazine, 10-12

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