You can be completely sure what might happen next’ – Lauren Child 

Michael Morpurgo and the late Ted Hughes, neighbouring Devon farmers, devised the Children’s Laureate scheme nearly twenty years ago. They considered that children’s books did not have a presence in the national consciousness. A successful, eminent, representative children’s writer was necessary. To some degree the profile of children’s books has become greater, despite children’s reading being buffeted by conflicting ideologies, commercial interests, educational dogma, and growing testing pressures.

The writing history, success and humanitarian work of Lauren Child suggests she will fill the role of Children’s Laureate superbly.

Each of her characters have individual voices. She encountered the original ‘Charlie and Lola‘ seated opposite her on a Scandinavian train; a long suffering older brother and persistent little sister. ‘Clarice Bean‘ is built from her memories of herself as a child; from Clarice’s worries, her day dreams – ‘sometimes I stare boredly into space and think of absolutely nothing.’ Lauren Child recommended in a BBC interview that children should be left alone more to dream and ponder – ‘being bored is how you create things.’

Like all the best children’s writers, Lauren Child does not rest on her laurels. Most recent titles are the ‘Ruby Redfort‘ series, developed from the books to which Clarice Bean is devoted. These, unlike her early works, are aimed at the confident reader – tween to teen years. Lauren Child is perplexed as to why readers suggest her books are written for girls, while she is keen that they are enjoyed by all readers. However, as the mother of a daughter adopted from Mongolia, where she worked with UNESCO, Lauren Child is concerned by the few representations of different cultures in children’s writing.

Lauren Child’s picture making style has progressed from pen and ink illustrations, adorned by her familiar long, linear text full of complex, challenging phrases and considerations, to entirely computer generated images. Her reinterpretations of ‘The Secret Garden’, ’Pollyanna’, ‘Pippi Longstocking‘ and ‘Goldilocks’ used collage from a wide range of sources. She has rediscovered and adapted fairy and traditional tales throughout her career; building miniature sets to expand the reader’s appreciation of their settings, e.g., ‘The Princess and the Pea’ and developed characters that fall or escape into these imaginary lands, e.g., ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book.’ 

Chris Riddell is the most recent children’s laureate. He is the Observer’s political cartoonist, and writer of titles such as ‘Wendel’s Workshop’, the ‘Ottoline’ and ‘Goth Girl’ series, and illustrator of works by Neil Gaiman, Paul Stewart and Richard Platt. Chris Riddell was appointed as President of the School Library Service, subsequent to his role as Children’s Laureate. Like Lauren Child, he revisited familiar characters and texts. With Neil Gaiman, he reworked ‘Sleeping Beauty’ into ‘The Sleeper and the Spindle’ (Bloomsbury- Kate Greenaway Medal winner) a threatening story more akin to its origins, and more appealing to 21st century readers (and adult followers of ‘American Gods’, Neil Gaiman’s Amazon series).

Chris Riddell’s ‘Goth Girl’ books are written for children and adults. There are so many nods to dates, stories, events and heroes of the Gothic age, and so much word and picture play, that would not be appreciated (or laughed over) by younger readers.

It is interesting that both laureates have used traditional and familiar tales as inspiration. Albert Einstein advised parents, ‘If you want your child to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. ‘

We invite you to a look at our traditional tales’ section in the Bookwagon bookshop- Picture books/ Non-fiction/ Poetry. Lauren Child advises parents- ‘children need the freedom to dream and imagine.’ We suggest her role, her works, like Chris Riddell and the laureate champions before, and a healthy dose of quality reading, allow this freedom. Bronnie

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