It’s 20 years since Ted Hughes and Sir Michael Morpurgo called for a post of Children’s Laureate. Here, five former Laureates reveal their favourite children’s book
It’s 20 years since War Horse author Sir Michael Morpurgo and the poet Ted Hughes dreamed up the idea of a Children’s Laureate to inspire and entertain young readers. ‘We wanted to be ambassadors for the enjoyment of literature,’ says Morpurgo. To mark the anniversary, Event asked five Laureates, including Charlie And Lola creator Lauren Child, the current holder of the title, to reveal a poem or book that still resonates from their own childhood.
Edward Lear’s The Jumblies is the poem I carry with me from childhood. It’s the absurdity of it – these odd creatures trying to go to sea in a great, big, round garden sieve. They go, they buy an owl and a pound of rice and a cranberry tart and eat Stilton cheese, and then they come home. The only point is making other people want to travel and have an adventure too. It reminds me of the holidays I went on with my parents to places no one else ever wanted to visit – wet campsites on the Welsh borders.
Michael Rosen: ‘Edward Lear’s The Jumblies is the poem I carry with me from childhood. It’s the absurdity of it – these odd creatures trying to go to sea in a great, big, round garden sieve’
The Eighteenth Emergency
This novel made me realise for the first time that people are neither good nor bad, but a mixture of both. It also taught me that life can be funny and tragic at the same time. It was written in the Seventies and is about the bridges or, more accurately, the gap between childhood and adulthood. This is the book that showed me how to write a story. If you can teach children from a very young age that stories help them make sense of the world, then you have taught them how to survive.
Lauren Child: ‘This novel made me realise for the first time that people are neither good nor bad, but a mixture of both’
The Owl And The Pussycat
The poem I first loved was the one my mother read to us so often that in the end I could recite it too. The moments of being read to by her are a treasured memory. It made a big impact on my life because this wasn’t learning done in school, as an obligation, it was about fun and free will. Then, when I was at primary school in the Fifties, we performed The Owl And The Pussycat as a play. I was the owl, and my girlfriend at the time, Belinda, was the bewhiskered pussycat caterwauling at the Moon. It was my first experience of poetry as a story, as drama.
Michael Morpurgo: ‘The poem I first loved was the one my mother read to us so often that in the end I could recite it too’
In The Public Library
The child in this poem could have been any one of mine. The poor things spent hours scrabbling on the floors of libraries with slightly grumpy people stepping over them. When I was small, there was only money for one book at Christmas and another on my birthday. But I was allowed to wander on my own to the local library. This poem captures the spirit of a library with all the opportunities for education and illumination on the shelves.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson
I loved swings as a child and still do, though these days I am more likely to be found pushing my grandchildren than having a go myself. This poem captures the exhilaration of going higher. Recently we were in Scotland, walking along the Water of Leith, and ended up at a cafe in the grounds of a nearby church. The cafe was called The Swing because Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather had been the vicar of the church and the swing of the poem was in the garden. This happy accident reinforced my sense of the poem having a special place in my life.
The Waterstones Children’s Laureate, managed by BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity, marks its 20th anniversary this year. See booktrust.org.uk