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The New Children’s Laureate, Julia Donaldson


‘One day in as the new Children’s Laureate, and Julia Donaldson could be forgiven for looking somewhat pole-axed,’ said Nicholas Tucker who interviewed her just after the announcement of her appointment as the 7th Children’s Laureate. Her predecessors in this illustrious post, Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen and Anthony Browne all championed different causes. What is to be the focus of Julia Donaldson’s Laureateship?


T


he volume of publicity Julia Donaldson’s appointment had engendered was already vast well before we met on the morning of June 8 in Macmillan’s swanky new building behind King’s


Cross. But the notices have all been positive, as befits an author of 160 books and twenty plays, many of them written in infectiously memorable rhyming texts.


Expert at getting through to pre-school children in live events, often accompanied by her husband Malcolm, this is a very popular as well as successful author. So did she think the Children’s Laureate should have a special uniform, possibly based on the sort of thing the Pied Piper may once have worn?


‘No, I don’t think so! I don’t mind dressing up as part of an event, but not as the person I am going to have to be for the next two years.’


So what are her plans?


‘Well, as a song-writer, which is how I started, I am most used to working with young audiences, acting out songs and stories myself and getting lots of audience participation. So I would like to do more of this, encouraging children, mums, dads, even criminals when I have worked in prisons to improvise from texts themselves and then join in the choruses. And I would also love to get more children into the writing process, and would support any project that encourages them to do this. And this approach wouldn’t just be with my books – I would like to use other writers’ work as well. But it’s not all about improvising and acting out. I have also worked for years with infants using easy to read play scripts, making sure that the main parts always get swapped around so everyone ultimately has a go. And some of the children involved, who weren’t particularly good readers, had by the end learned all the words,


8 Books for Keeps No.189 July 2011


which brought on their reading confidence no end. I would love it now if I could work with an educational publisher and produce more of these little scripts as a genuine aid to reading ability.’


Are there plans then for trying to widen out her involvement from single occasions to mass events involving children all over the country, possibly through radio or television?


‘I have already been in talks about creating a new show for children on television. What I would like


would be a series where I or someone else could tell a story and then work with children who had already heard it before and who could then act it out. This would show schools how to do it. And it would be nice to round up all this work with something like a national Act out a story day. Radio would be lovely too, if we could get any broadcasting organization interested. When I was a child I used to love the BBC programme Listen with Mother. People moan today about children no longer knowing nursery rhymes, but the reason we all once knew them was this wonderful programme. I used to sing “Ding Dong Bell” so often that my mother would beg me to stop. But I would simply reply “More ding dong!”’


What about nursery rhymes?


Nursery rhymes are such a rich source for children. How about a campaign to bring them to the fore once again, possibly persuading a chain of shops to mount window displays featuring a nursery rhyme of the month?


‘Yes, but children still wouldn’t be getting the tunes as well, which are so important in the memory process. Perhaps we could persuade CBeebies to have something like a nursery rhyme of the week. Possibly in the morning before children go to school. But something certainly should be done. Malcolm, my husband, often gets children singing while they are queuing up to have their books signed at one of our events. And he finds that most of them only know two rhymes now, “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”


Is Malcolm going to play a big part in what you will be doing?


‘He’s been grooming me for the post ever since it was first announced! I always used to say I couldn’t possibly think of doing it. But I feel differently now. And it has come at a good time, since Malcolm is going to retire as a pediatrician half way through my term. After that I am


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