Malorie Blackman, author of the bestselling Noughts and Crosses series, hopes her appointment as the first black Children's Laureate will help encourage children from a diverse background to read more.
Ms Blackman, who replaces outgoing laureate Julia Donaldson, was presented with the medal and a £15,000 bursary cheque in King’s Place in London today. She told The Independent: “I feel really excited and just a tad daunted. I can’t wait to get cracking.”
The prolific author of child and teenage fiction will use the platform to call on infant and primary school teachers to spend at least 10 minutes every day on storytelling.
“I’d like to ensure every child of a primary school age has a library card. Where the parents haven’t got one for their child, the schools will step in and make sure they have one,” she added.
The Waterstones Children’s Laureate is handed to an eminent children’s author or illustrator, who then holds the post for two years. Previous incumbents of the role created in 1999 include Quentin Blake and Michael Morpurgo.
“I’m a voice for children’s books and children’s reading. In my two years my overall aim is to get more children reading more,” she said.
Ms Blackman is a strong advocate for libraries after discovering fiction from the age of seven. “That was instrumental in creating a love of books and stories. I would head there with a packed lunch and read until closing time.”
While she read “anything and everything I could get my hands on” she remembers the Narnia books with particular fondness, before moving onto classics like Rebecca and Jane Eyre at the age of 11.
“When I read all those books I never read one that featured a black child like me,” she said. “It’s about making sure no child gets left behind. I loved reading when I grew up but did feel totally invisible because I couldn’t see myself and my life reflected in the books I was reading. So it’s about making sure every child feels included and have the right to express themselves creatively.”
Ms Blackman’s desire to write saw her change from a career programmer, publishing her first book of short stories at the age of 28. She also worked as a script writer for children’s television drama Byker Grove. She has now written 60 teen and children’s books.
She said: “I would like to champion diverse forms like graphic novels and works told in verse and diverse writers and illustrators and diverse authors as well.”
She has even been referenced by rapper Tinie Tempah in song "Written in the Stars". “Even my daughter was impressed by that,” Ms Blackman said. “She thinks I’m super uncool but she thought I was cool then.”