Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Michael Rosen on being Children's Laureate

In The Guardian, outgoing Children's Laureate, Michael Rosen, reflects on his experience working with school-children.
My father dies. He was 89. There seem to be so many layers to his life. To me and my brother he was the bloke on camping holidays singing French folk songs, telling rude jokes, or back home getting in a state about our homework not being done. But as the letters and obituaries are written, we are reminded of him as schoolteacher, as teacher-trainer, as storyteller, as "animator" of study groups.

An issue of the English teachers' journal Changing English appears that is entirely devoted to him and his work. Simon, one of his colleagues at Walworth comprehensive school in south London, has unearthed the English syllabus that my father helped to devise in 1958. I read: "Whatever language the pupils possess, it is this which must be built on rather than driven underground. However narrow the experience of our pupils may be (and it is often wider than we think), it is this experience alone which has given their language meaning. The starting point for English work must be the ability to handle effectively their own experience. Oral work, written work and the discussion of literature must create an atmosphere in which the pupils become confident of the full acceptability of the material of their own experience. Only in this way can they advance to the next stage."

I am overcome with feelings of admiration, sadness, regret and anger. I start to scribble a letter to the editor of Changing English, Jane Miller. How did the Thatcher and Blair governments succeed so quickly to wipe out years of such thought, theory and practice? Did my father, my mother and everyone else struggling to figure out how to give every single child the right to speak, write and read not lay out these kinds of theories clearly enough?
Update: And it has been announced today that the new Children's Laureate is Anthony Browne.
It's a great honour to be the Children's Laureate for 2009-11. I know all about the amazing things the five previous Laureates have done, and I'm in awe of their hard work. I hope to encourage more children to discover and love reading, but I would like people to think especially about picture books, and the reading of both pictures and words.

I believe picture books are for everybody at any age, not books to be left behind as we grow older. What excites me about them is how often the pictures can tell us so much more than the words. I like the way they can reveal clues as to what a character is thinking or feeling. Picture books are special – they're not like anything else. Sometimes I hear parents encouraging their children to read what they call "proper books" (books without pictures), at an earlier and earlier age. This makes me sad, as picture books are perfect for sharing, and not just with the youngest children. We have in Britain some of the best picture book makers in the world, and I want to see their books appreciated for what they are – works of art.

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