Letter from a Laureate: Julia Donaldson

To celebrate 20 years of the Waterstones Children's Laureates in 2019, we asked every Laureate to tell us their thoughts, memories and aims while holding the most inspiring post in children's literature.

Here's what Julia Donaldson had to say.

Dear reader,

It was a great honour when I was chosen to be the 2011-2013 Children’s Laureate. Here is a summary of what I did in that role:

Encouraging children to act and to read aloud

During the 20 or so years that I’ve been visiting schools and libraries and performing in book festivals and theatres, I’ve discovered how much children enjoy participating in stories – acting parts in them, and joining in choruses.

As well as being fun, performing is, in my opinion, tremendously good for children’s confidence. So I wanted to create at least one laureate legacy in this area, and in fact created four.

They are:

  • a website, with lots of ideas to help teachers to dramatise picture books with their classes
  • Poems to Perform: an anthology of poems by a wide range of authors, all suitable for reading aloud by more than one voice, and some lending themselves to performance by a whole class
  • “Plays to Read”: I’ve seen how much play-reading improves children’s reading skills, so I was delighted to collaborate with the publishers Pearson on a series of 60 fun short plays with parts for six characters. I wrote a third of the plays myself, and the others were written by various distinguished children’s authors, including Geraldine McCaughrean and Jeanne Willis
  • “Plays to Act”: Again working with Pearson, I devised a series of plays with parts for a whole class, each one based on a well-known picture book, including Ed Vere’s Mr Big and A New Home for a Pirate by Ronda Armitage and Holly Swain

Promoting books about and for deaf children

Among the work I did in this area was a workshop with the charity Life and Deaf, creating a picture-book story featuring deafness. The resulting story, What the Jackdaw Saw, was then illustrated by Nick Sharratt and published by Macmillan. It’s a beautiful and witty book about sign language.

Supporting libraries

In September and October 2012, I did a six-week John o’ Groats to Lands End tour, following this up in 2013 with a Northern Ireland tour. In each library I visited, an invited class performed a story, poem or song to me before I embarked on sharing my own stories and songs.

I also wrote lots of articles and spoke with politicians about the damaging effects on children when libraries are closed and librarians’ posts cut.

Richness and pleasure of reading

So performance, stories for deaf children, and libraries... These were my “big things”, all linked of course to the “biggest thing” of all – the pleasure and richness to be gained from reading.

Best wishes,