Letter from a Laureate: Lauren Child
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 Lauren Child, our current Children's Laureate, has to say about the experience so far.
I think what has surprised me most about my time as Waterstones Children’s Laureate, is just how much the experience has lifted my spirits. I have gained a huge amount from it and this is something I had not counted on.
Taking young people seriously
It has been fascinating to have the chance to discuss children’s literature and illustration in a meaningful way, very often with people unconnected to the children’s book world, and unconnected to the world of children. It has given me opportunities to meet people who have created all kinds of children’s projects, people who put books into the hands of children who would not otherwise engage with books.
I have been reminded of just how many people understand what it can mean for a young person to be taken seriously by writers and teachers of writing, and so find the confidence to write a poem (and a very good poem at that).
I have met those who teach young children to draw. Showing them how to truly look at what they see, to properly observe the world around them and illustrate it. This gives them confidence and skill and a better understanding of other lives.
Illustration is its own language
Aside from talking about the need for children to be allowed time to think and dream, and the space for ideas to collide and connect, I also wanted to discuss the importance of illustration.
Children’s book Illustration is often seen as secondary to the words, there to help children engage with the text until the time comes when they don’t need pictures anymore. Yet Illustration is its own language, which does so much more than give focus to words; it offers the reader a connection on a different, and perhaps a deeper level. A picture can communicate a feeling or an idea too difficult, and on occasion too painful to express in text. Consider the final page of John Burningham’s Grandpa; it is as profound an illustration of grief as one could hope to find, and one that communicates across age groups without need for words.
Valuing children’s literature and illustration
For some time before I took on the role of Children’s Laureate, I had been feeling somewhat downcast about the way children’s literature and illustration is regarded as less important than literature for adults. The evidence of this disparity is everywhere. In the media books for adults are discussed seriously. We have many, many high-profile prizes, review programmes and newspaper pages devoted to them. But why not for children's books? Is it because we consider what we read and look at when we are grown up to be inherently more valuable than what we read and look at as children? Is it that there is nothing of interest to say about a children’s book, unless it becomes a commercial sensation? Do we think there is little art in this particular art form?
Sparking ideas and debate
Some of the reasons for having a Children’s Laureate are to spark ideas and debate, to have the platform to consider how things might change, to explore what might be important for the audience we write and illustrate for, and to bring forward those voices from which we need to hear. I believe that books, illustration and stories can profoundly change a child’s life.
These are all reasons why I accepted the opportunity to become Children’s Laureate and why I have not regretted that decision for one minute.