Children's Laureate: Cuts are 'outrageous'

In letter to his successor, to be named this week, Anthony Browne warns: 'We'll all pay the price'

Outgoing Children's Laureate Anthony Browne warned last night that we will "pay the price in the long term" for closing public and school libraries as he urged his successor to do everything to support them.

The author and illustrator, whose tenure ends on Tuesday when his replacement is announced at a ceremony in London, said he found it "incredible and outrageous" that libraries were being forced to close.

In an open letter to the Waterstone's Children's Laureate 2011-13, he urged: "Do everything you can to support libraries – God knows, they need every bit of help they can get nowadays."

His plea comes as councils threaten to axe libraries in response to spending cuts. A recent National Literacy Trust report found one in three young people do not have books of their own.

The title of Children's Laureate, managed by the literature charity Booktrust, has a £15,000 bursary and is awarded every two years to an eminent writer or illustrator of children's books. Launched in 1999, previous post holders include the illustrator Quentin Blake and the creator of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson.

Mr Browne, whose books include Gorilla and Willy the Wimp, is the sixth Children's Laureate. He said his successor could expect two years of "hard but extraordinary work".

He advised the newcomer to "celebrate and champion the causes that you feel passionate about". "Inspiring passion in children for books, and the world of imagination and creativity fuelled by them, is a fundamental reason for why the Children's Laureate post exists," he added.

His "big project" was the charity book Play the Shape Game, which was based on a game he had played with his brother, Michael, as a child. The first player draws an abstract shape and the second transforms it into something recognisable. Mr Browne said one of the highlights of his tenure was playing the game with 45 celebrities, including the actress Emma Thompson.

"I've discovered, from colleagues on the laureateship, that adults get better at it after a few glasses of wine!" he said. "We seem to lose the confidence as we grow older in our innate ability to draw.

"With this in mind, sometimes the achievements of your time as Children's Laureate will be to engender excitement in adults for a wealth of children's literature that they may have forgotten or have yet to discover. Many adults that I have met in my time believed that picture books are 'babyish'. I hope I have changed minds on this, as I set out to do. In this current climate of cuts, this is even more important."

A committee chaired by the former children's television presenter Baroness Floella Benjamin has chosen the next laureate. The panel considered nominations from organisations representing librarians, publishers, writers, illustrators, literature development workers and booksellers, along with 573 nominations made by the public.

Said Mr Browne: "Before I became the Children's Laureate I spent most of my time sitting quietly in my studio painting, but over the past two years I have collected a vivid treasure trove of memories, leaving me perhaps a little tired, but certainly happy."

Words of wisdom

The sixth Children's Laureate, Anthony Browne, to his successor:

"Use your time in the post to celebrate and champion the causes that you feel passionate about. Inspiring passion in children for books, and the world of imagination and creativity fuelled by them, is a fundamental reason for why the Children's Laureate post exists."

"Do everything you can to support libraries – God knows, they need every bit of help they can get nowadays. I find it incredible and outrageous that public and school libraries are being forced to close – we'll all pay the price in the long term."

"Never forget that children are at the heart of everything we do. Respect them, listen to them, talk to them as equals and care about them."

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