On his appointment as the fifth Children’s Laureate in 2007 (the first poet to be so honoured) Michael Rosen announced his intention to try to bring back into classrooms a love of reading for pleasure. He told journalists: ‘There is a huge push on to create an environment – in nurseries, and reception, and year ones and year twos – where books are secondary to the process of reading. This seems oxymoronic to me. We must, must have at the heart of learning to read the pleasure that is reading. Otherwise why bother? You could learn phonics, learn how to read and then put it behind you and watch telly – you’re given no reason to read. There are many ways in which people learn how to read; the idea that there is one way is an outrageous fib.’
In an interview with Morag Styles for this magazine in 2007 (BfK No 166) Michael said: ‘The core idea of literature is that we can re-present our lives and imaginations and that’s much more important than the business of getting letters right. The stuff going on in schools is denying the basis of what literature is for – the shared conversation about who we are or might be, what we think, what we imagine, what we feel…’
Rosen’s Laureate Logs (he signs off with his final log in this issue of BfK) have been riveting accounts of the many ways in which he has translated this conviction that literature must be put back at the heart of education into initiatives that are practical, inspiring and inclusive. From his tireless work have resulted ventures such as the ‘Poetry Friendly Classroom’ webpage and the Roald Dahl Funny Prize that will endure.
But now that Michael’s two-year laureateship has come to an end, is there any evidence of greater understanding among policy makers of the importance of reading for pleasure? In his 10th Laureate Log (BfK No 176) Michael wrote that ‘a head of steam is building, putting pressure on the government to carry on loosening up the curriculum and to make more space for reading for pleasure. What’s odd is that it seems to be happening in a rather low key, almost covert way.’ That such a loosening is happening at all is in large measure due to Michael’s energy and enthusiasm. His powerful advocacy on behalf of teachers struggling with restrictive policies and most particularly, on behalf of young readers, has been truly inspirational.
In his ‘Classics in Short’ in this issue, Brian Alderson pays tribute to Michael Rosen the poet whose first book Mind Your Own Business broke new ground in the contemporary, often humorous, always inventive way it reflected the voice of the modern child.