It's chapter and reverse

1st May 2009 at 01:00
Today's pupils heard the schoolday memories of five children's laureates at a party to celebrate 10 years of the post

Only the five-foot model Dalek that guards the entrance to the children's section at Waterstone's in Piccadilly, London, was silent as five of the UK's bestselling authors entered the store.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the creation of a children's laureate, all five children's laureates: Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and the current post-holder, Michael Rosen, were brought together to chat with 100 10-year-olds about writing, childhood and being 10.

"When I was 10 there was an imaginary line separating the boys' playground from the girls' playground," said Mr Rosen. "You were not allowed to cross this line. Then a boy from Germany came to school with a handball. He didn't know about the line and threw it into the girls' playground. We all went running after it."

But it wasn't just the crossing of the imaginary line that earned Mr Rosen the cane. As the German child and the teacher wrestled over the ball, he decided to take a stand.

"I booed," he told the hushed audience. "That was not a good idea. Everyone joined in. The headteacher came up and said, `You, you, you to my study'."

Three strokes followed, then a letter home and his name in the punishment book, where he was told it would never be forgotten.

And, sure enough, when Mr Rosen revisited his primary school a few years ago, there was the punishment book with his name still in it. He was presented with the cane, to take home as a memento.

The adults present sighed happily; the children were not so sure.

Jacqueline Wilson, laureate No 4, reminisced about unpredictable, seemingly random violence dealt out by a teacher who caned boys, whizzed chalk at inattentive girls and called her Jacky Daydream.

Anne Fine, No 2, hated the dentist and sewing, but loved skipping and singing hymns.

Quentin Blake, laureate No 1, was 10 in 1942. He remembered how strange it was to be doing ordinary things, such as starting a collection, then watching bombs fall overhead and London burning during the Second World War. His collection consisted of shrapnel.

Michael Morpurgo, No 3, who thought of the idea of a children's laureate with the late poet laureate Ted Hughes, remembered scoring his first try in rugby and lying about the Queen coming to tea to impress classmates. Which it did.

Between them, the laureates have created the stories or pictures in about 700 books and inspired TV dramas, plays and films. It was not a quiet occasion. The children buzzed with questions and excitement. "Miss, Jacqueline Wilson spoke to me," one child said to her teacher.

"What did she say?"


The children's laureate post was created to improve the status of children's literature. Mr Morpurgo said: "We wanted to put in a place of honour someone who can touch adults and children, and say to people, `Look at the work seriously'."

The laureateship, which has a bursary of Pounds 10,000, is awarded to celebrate outstanding achievement. It has become a platform from which authors can speak about what is happening to English teaching in schools and why.

Fiona Hamilton, a Year 5 teacher at Ravenstone Primary School in Balham, London, said: "The children's laureates help children become passionate about books. Having the event in a bookshop is a good idea too. One child asked if we could stick around afterwards and buy books. But we have to go back to school."

But they didn't leave empty-handed. Each child was given a free book and memories of the day their favourite authors said hello.


Michael Morpurgo, former children's laureate and author of more than 100 books including War Horse, has said he does not support a boycott of testing.

The outspoken critic of Sats who has campaigned to drop them, said he felt such a divisive action was the wrong tactic.

He said: "I think the argument to get rid of them is so strong. The Government has already got rid of them at key stage 3. The argument is being won. This is the wrong tactic to use. People are now talking about whether a strike or boycott is a right idea rather than what it is for. The danger is that when politicians feel they are being attacked, they become defensive."

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