In brief

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Dear Mr Morpingo: inside the world of Michael Morpurgo

By Geoff Fox. Illustrations by Michael Foreman

Wizard Books pound;5.99

This is the latest in a series of substantial portraits of key children's authors intended mainly for a readership of child fans (despite the muddled, child-unfriendly jackets), offering more detail and more depth than information book series that have tried to do the same job. As this one focuses on the current children's laureate, it should also interest adults who look for ways to engage young readers and raise the profile of what they are reading.

Michael Morpurgo, possibly the busiest of the three laureates to date in terms of ground covered and children encountered, must have been fairly new to the post when this project was started, but the book is up to date, even mentioning this term's successful StoryQuest events. I would have liked to wait a year to read an assessment of the whole laureateship.

Through interviews with children's books scholar Geoff Fox, Mr Morpurgo takes a couple of (gentle) swipes at poor, misunderstood critics but is kind to teachers, despite having been taught in a way that, for a long time, made him afraid to write. Much of the material is familiar - stories of his schooling; his family's experiences in two world Farms for City Children charity; the partnership with artist Michael Foreman, which he has said is "like a marriage"; his ideal conditions for writing - but will be new to the StoryQuest generation. For adult readers, there are hints at lesser known and intriguing stories. It's not widely known that he lost his first teaching job at a prep school for taking a stand over corporal punishment; his union got him reinstated, but he left anyway.

It's surprising and intriguing to discover that this prolific and highly regarded author rarely reads fiction and doesn't enjoy solitude (unless he's cast away on one of the more remote Isles of Scilly, and comes back with a great idea for a story, such as "The Story That Wrote Itself", published at the end of this book).

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