The announcement of the new Children's Laureate, Malorie Blackman, below, caused celebrations in the publishing world last week. The first black author to be appointed to the position was a popular choice among fellow writers, and she said she would use the role to "get more children reading and make reading irresistible in all its forms".
The position of Children's Laureate is awarded every two years, the idea having been dreamt up by Michael Morpurgo and Ted Hughes, who was then the Poet Laureate. Quentin Blake was the first (1999-2001), followed by Anne Fine (2001-3), Michael Morpurgo (2003-5), Jacqueline Wilson (2005-7), Michael Rosen (2007-9), Anthony Browne (2009-11), Julia Donaldson (2011-13) and Blackman (2013-15).
An interview with the former Children's Laureate Anne Fine, about her new novel Blood Family (Doubleday Children's, £12.99, 4 July) will appear on this site on Sunday 23 June.
The Children's Laureate is not ostensibly a campaigning role, but its incumbents tend to use it to bang a drum about issues which they see as affecting children. When Anthony Browne handed over to the Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson he left her an open letter imploring: "Do everything you can to support libraries – God knows, they need every bit of help they can get nowadays." Michael Rosen was (and is) frequently vocal about politicians' inability to "get it", and started his term by criticising testing, synthetic phonics, and the tendency to sacrifice children's enjoyment of reading on the altar of "literacy". Anne Fine tore into Melvin Burgess for his novel Doing It, a "grubby book, which demeans young women and young men", and suggested that its publishers should be ashamed and pulp their copies.
Blackman looks set to follow in her predecessors' campaigning footsteps. She has already taken on Education Secretary Michael Gove, calling his assumption that teenagers should read Middlemarch and not Twilight "prescriptive", questioning the school curriculum which focuses on British history, and worrying that he is reducing teachers to a "delivery mechanism" to get children through tests. It seems likely that she will also tackle the Government for failing to halt the closure of libraries, which were "instrumental" in her learning to love books when she was little. "Local authorities have to make cuts but it's short sighted to close libraries", she said.
The Children's Laureate receives a bursary of £15,000 and a special silver medal, sponsored by the Arts Council and Waterstones, among others. Schools and libraries can request a visit by applying to email@example.com.
Blackman's writing credits include several episodes of Byker Grove, and a stage play, The Amazing Birthday. She also adapted her novel Pig-Heart Boy into a Bafta-winning TV series. Her novel-in-verse Cloud Busting won a Nestle Smarties Book Prize in 2004. She has written more than 50 books for children and teenagers, which have been translated into 15 languages.
Her first engagement as Children's Laureate will be in London on 17 June at Waterstones in Piccadilly, where she will be discussing "keeping the 'adult' in young adult fiction: love, life and death in teen fiction" with Melvin Burgess and Lucy Mangan.