Thursday, June 11, 2009

Anthony Browne, sixth children's laureate

Author and illustrator Anthony Browne is the new Children's Laureate.

Anthony - who has been awarded just about every prize going -, books include Gorilla, Zoo and the Willy series of adventures, takes over from poet Michael Rosen.

The post is awarded once every two years to an eminent children's writer or illustrator to celebrate outstanding achievement in their field.

He said he wanted to encourage more children to enjoy reading and books, particularly picture books.

"Picture books are for everybody at any age, not books to be left behind as we grow older.

"The best ones leave a tantalising gap between the pictures and the words, a gap that is filled by the reader's imagination, adding so much to the excitement of reading a book.

"Sometimes I hear parents encouraging their children to read what they call 'proper books' (books without pictures), at an earlier and earlier age.

"This makes me sad, as picture books are perfect for sharing, and not just with the youngest children.

"As a father, I understand the importance of the bond that develops through reading picture books with your child.

"We have in Britain some of the best picture book makers in the world, and I want to see their books appreciated for what they are - works of art," he added.

Anthony Browne said he was looking forward to the challenge...
He becomes the sixth person to hold the position, and was presented with his Children's Laureate Medal and a £15,000 bursary by former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion at a ceremony in London on Tuesday. The venue, the Paramount Club on top of Centre Point, had great views across London but proved completely impossible for conversation - dreadful acoustics and everyone felt they had to shout. However the speeches were miked and models of coherent brevity!

Everyone present enjoyed the comment by Lord Chris Smith that it was "very nice not to be an MP these days". He headed the appropriate government department ten years ago when the Laureate was set up and, modestly, said he was glad to help in a small way and that the post was an excellent idea. Julia Eccleshare (chair of the Laureate panel) commented that Michael Rosen's energy "hit them with a blinding flash and an incredible debt of gratude is due to him". Michael Rosen said that "now is a vital stage in the history of the book...books let us reflect on who we are and where we are going...worksheets (in schools too often replacing books) are discrimatory and deny millions their basic rights" and he concluded by citing two project to watch and support, namely the Campaign for the Book and Just Read.

Andrew Motion said: "Anthony Browne is an absolutely distinctive and extraordinarily skilful artist - someone whose work entrances children, and has influenced an entire generation of illustrators. His pictures and stories give deep and immediate pleasures, while also insisting that we - children and adults - return to them. And when we return, we have a gradually expanding sense of discovery."

The award is now funded by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and administered by Booktrust, and sponsored by Waterstone's and further supported by a wide range of publishers.

Viv Bird, chief executive of Booktrust said: "The role of the Children's Laureate is that of ambassador and champion for children's literature. As managers of the award, Booktrust has been delighted with the enthusiasm and contribution made by each of the Laureates, and welcomes Anthony's appointment wholeheartedly."

Quentin Blake (1999-2001)
Anne Fine (2001-2003)
Michael Morpurgo (2003-2005)
Jacqueline Wilson (2005-2007)
Michael Rosen (2007-2009)

Anthony included children on the day, firstly by playing the Shape Game with them (and I think we'll be hearing a lot about that in the future) and secondly by staying and talking to them after the formal part of the proceeding finished. That seems typical of the man. I well remember biting my nails as he passed round his artwork at a session in the Hungate Bookshop, Norwich for the current project at the time - Alice in Wonderland (see pictures at the top of the article). Of course his trust in his young audience was completely justified. Good luck to him from all of us at Carousel. And you can read an editorial from him in the next issue due out next month.

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