Newly appointed the fifth Children’s Laureate, the poet Michael Rosen will be reporting on his experiences throughout his laureateship. Here is his first log.
First thing to say, is that I’m enjoying myself. I’m only mentioning that because many kind people have been worried that I might be drowning under the pile of work involved. No drowning, no need to worry!
People outside the book world ask me, what does being the Laureate mean? What do you actually do? What does a Laureate’s day look like?
The first thing I did was come up with some ideas and the second thing I did was come up with some more – an interactive YouTube-like poetry website; an interactive webpage for teachers to talk to each other about making poetry-friendly classrooms; Children’s Literature Trails; a children’s poetry roadshow; an exhibition on the history of children’s poetry at the British Library tied in with a conference on the history of children’s poetry; support for The Booktrust’s ‘The Big Picture’ campaign for picture books; a Funny Prize for the funniest children’s book of the year.
Now, each of these ideas needs plans and meetings, so we’ve sat in twos and threes at various times looking out over the river at the South Bank, munching curry near Oxford Circus, looking at the roofs from the fifth floor of Waterstones in Piccadilly, or drinking coffee in the British Library café. We’ve made progress on all eight ideas. Funding is a problem for the interactive website but the poetry-friendly webpage is on its way. A document is being written for the Trails. Hay Festival is putting its weight behind the Poetry Roadshow. The British Library has said yes to the exhibition; the conference is less certain at the moment. The Big Picture has been launched and Booktrust are looking into The Funny Prize.
Meanwhile, I’ve been interviewed many, many times. Interesting, probing questions about poetry in education, the language and literacy curriculum, picture books, the schools I went to, my parents, my children, my trousers and much, much more. When I read the articles back to myself, I just occasionally find things that I think perhaps I didn’t say. I’m not sure I told The Times that I was in favour of ‘chaos’ – ‘freedom’, yes; ‘chaos’, I don’t think so, but maybe it came out like that… And I fear I misled my friend Nick Tucker when I reported a conversation about not having an office to work in. I think my tenses got mixed up and I meant to say, ‘I hadn’t had an office to work in’! Sorry Nick, not your fault! I find myself wondering what it would feel like to be a politician: ‘No I didn’t say, “We should abolish it”, I said, “We should polish it…”’
Then there’s been my first Laureate Event, which was a talk I gave called ‘What is a Bong Tree?’ This was about the kinds of questions we ask children to answer about poems. The answer to the question, ‘What is a Bong Tree?’ comes at the end of the talk, so you can scroll straight to there if that’s the bit you really want to know. Who knows, it might come up on University Challenge. I’m not sure that my answer will be of much help, though. You can find it on the Booktrust website.
It was great to help launch The Big Picture campaign to promote and champion picture books at the Early Book Awards. We have a serious task of saving the picture book from being squeezed out of the market by schools and parents rushing to buy phonics books and booklets full of ‘English’ exercises. I think that this is going to be the big challenge facing children’s books over the next ten years.
I’ve had a fantastic time at Brook Sixth Form in Hackney where I live. I wrote a kind of Under Milk Wood ‘voice-play’ about Hackney, and the students rehearsed and performed it to a public audience at a local converted chapel. The 20 or so performers stood round the edge and the audience sat or stood in the middle. I’ll put the text of the play up on my website.