Bookstart founder and children's books pioneer Wendy Cooling dies

Published on: 23 June 2020

Pioneering children's book 'dabbler' Wendy Cooling has died, leaving a far-reaching legacy.

Wendy Cooling

Pioneering children's book 'dabbler' (her words) Wendy Cooling has died, after a short illness.

There are few more beloved people in the world of children's books than Wendy, and her passing will be mourned by authors, illustrators, publishers, librarians, teachers and all those colleagues who worked with her on the ground-breaking projects that marked a long and uniquely impactful career.

Her most outward legacy is the creation of Bookstart – the BookTrust project she pioneered 28 years ago – which today places books into the hands of over two million children in the UK every year and has inspired equivalent programmes throughout the world, including Japan, Colombia, Thailand and Taiwan.

Wendy Cooling

From the early days of her career as an inspirational secondary school teacher, through to the Reading Roadshows addressing the needs of children in foster care; from the many anthologies of stories and poems for children she edited to her utterly unforgettable book talks at conferences, Wendy never ceased to keep breaking down the barriers preventing any child from any background accessing the widest possible range of reading.

Growing up in rural Norfolk, she eagerly waited for the monthly visits from the library van. She left school aged 16 and studied for A levels at night whilst working for the Civil Service in London. Throughout her career, she wore her expertise with incredible modesty and a light touch.

'If you can read,' she said, 'you can do anything. Reading is a resource for life.'

In 2006, Wendy received the Eleanor Farjeon Award. In 2009, she was made MBE for Services to Children's Literature.

Wendy Cooling

'Wendy Cooling was, quite simply, a powerhouse who transformed the lives of millions of children.' Diana Gerald, CEO of BookTrust

'Her belief that every child deserved a rich life of reading and books was utterly compelling.' Jonathan Douglas, Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust

'Her contribution to children's reading is utterly unique and unlikely ever to be replicated.' Hilary Murray Hill, CEO , Hachette Children's Group and Chair, Heads of Children's Publishers Group

'A whole generation of readers – and their parents – have Wendy to thank for bringing books into their families.' Meryl Halls, Managing Director, Booksellers Association of the United Kingdom & Ireland Ltd

'If we hadn't met Wendy, millions of babies born in Japan wouldn't have received Bookstart packs and enjoyed sharing books. Your love is passed down to so many people and is circulating around the globe. Thank you, Wendy.' Izumi Satou, Bookstart Japan

'Her knowledge was overwhelming, her warmth infectious. A life so well lived.' Michael Morpurgo

'Wendy was passionate about putting books in the hands of all our children. Meeting her made me feel I could have a place and a space as an author in the world of children's books.' Malorie Blackman

'Wendy was a passionate champion for children's books, and the transformative magic of reading. Her legacy will be far-reaching.' Cressida Cowell, Waterstones Children's Laureate

Topics: Bookstart, News

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