In his tenth log, Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen senses that change may be taking place in attitudes to the curriculum and reminds us how disadvantaged children can be when there is no time for reading for pleasure. Amidst his usual hectic round of engagements, poetry activities are to the fore.
I get the impression 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. As I’ve said before, I think we need a bold, clear statement from government that asks every local authority and every school to develop practical policies on how to make their respective patches into book-loving places for all. Just Read, the TV programme I did for BBC Four, showed that it’s possible. If we don’t get going on this, we will lose school libraries, local libraries and end up seriously discriminating against children who come from homes where there are very few or no books. These are the children who find school so hard. Reading widely and often opens doors, and one of those doors takes you into formal education. It should be a priority to get every child reading many books and many different kinds of books. It’s the most pleasurable way we know of getting hold of complex and abstract ideas.
The first months of 2009 have kept me busy. On BBC Radio 4, two programmes I presented about children’s books went out – one about the 200 year history of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and the other on the Russian ‘Winnie the Pooh’, who is known to Russians as ‘Vinni Pukh’. I’ve also appeared on BBC Four’s We Need Answers (a joyously nutty quiz show), Bookaboo, ITV’s book show for children, Sky TV’s Book Show, The Daily Politics and The Wright Stuff. I’ve also been a judge on BBC’s Off by Heart, a show about children performing poems. It was down to me to choose the overall winner for the London area and I chose a seven-year-old boy who performed a poem by Grace Nichols as if it was a rock gospel number. Stunning!
Meanwhile I’ve been round and about doing shows, workshops or talks in Orpington, Southampton, Sheffield, Beaconsfield, Upminster, City and Islington College (for a conference on Gaza), Barbican Centre, Wavendon near Milton Keynes (for a poetry and jazz workshop with Tim Whitehead from the Homemade Orchestra), Edinburgh (Scottish Book Trust conference), the Booktrust Conference in London, Newham, Norwich, The Stables in Milton Keynes, Coram Fields, Haverstock School in Camden, Solihull, a conference of Paediatric Anaesthetists in Brighton and the Bernie Grant Centre in Haringey. Meanwhile, my courses at Birkbeck and CLPE run on and I’m working with Hackney teachers on a Year 5 writing project.
On the progress of my Laureate projects: ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat’, the exhibition on the history of poetry for children that Morag Styles and I have curated, opened at the British Library on 1 April. Do take a look at it – it’s in the foyer and it’s free! The conference on children’s poetry is a sell-out but there should be a book of the papers and talks to follow. The ‘A-Z’ anthology of children’s poets (from Agard to Zephaniah) will be published by Puffin in August. Perform-a-poem, my idea of a poetry YouTube for children, will happen with the London Grid for Learning and we’re just gearing up for the second Roald Dahl Funny Prize for the funniest books for children. As a result of last year’s prize, my eight-year-old daughter has become an Andy Stanton addict!
Visit the Booktrust website (www.childrenslaureate.org.uk) or Michael’s website (www.michaelrosen.co.uk) for information and details of forthcoming events.