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The Children’s Laureate

The new Children’s Laureate will be announced later today!

Unlike the Poet Laureate, who is chosen by the Prime Minister and appointed by the Queen, young people can vote for the Children’s Laureate online. The chosen author, poet or illustrator will be awarded a silver medal and £15,000 (the Poet Laureate traditionally receives 720 bottles of sherry!) There have been 8 Children’s Laureates since 1999, the first of which is illustrator Quentin Blake.

quentin blake

Matilda, Fantastic Mr Fox, Charlie Bucket and Mr Twit were all designed and brought to life by Quentin Blake, who was knighted in 2013 for his services to children’s literature. His anarchic illustrations have earned him 5 Kate Greenaway nominations, so one might expect him to be both highly trained and highly disciplined. Nope! Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered (BOOK ZONE 741.028 BLA) is Blake’s attempt to take the fear out of drawing, and put the fun back in. There are plenty of blank pages for your imagination to run wild, as well as half-completed exercises like ‘emotional rabbits’, where you have to add an expressive face to Quentin’s rabbit templates! There really is no way to mess this book up- it’s all about developing your own style of drawing, becoming more confident along the way. How else do you think Blake came up with George’s Grandma, with her mouth like a cat’s bottom?

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Blake also provided illustrations for The Sad Book (BOOK ZONE 155.937 ROS) by Michael Rosen, who was Children’s Laureate from 2007 until 2009. Rosen is most famous for his funny rhyming poems, which are often used to teach children to read (remember ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’?) The Sad Book is altogether different.

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Rosen’s son Eddie died at 18, and The Sad Book describes Rosen’s attempts to live with his overwhelming grief. It’s difficult to read, partly because we are used to laughing at Rosen’s books and Blake’s illustrations. The panel below is probably familiar to anyone who has felt sad, but some of the other feelings Rosen talks about are quite taboo- it’s not considered ok to blame a loved one for dying, and taking it out on the cat is ill-advised. But Rosen explains that being sad is not the same as being horrible. The Sad Book doesn’t have a happy ending- it’s quite famous for making even the hardest adults cry.  This could be because Rosen acknowledges that Sad can happen to anyone at any time- you don’t have to have lost a loved one, although Sad almost always follows a death. Rosen’s Sad is his and his alone, but like many people, he takes comfort in knowing that he is not alone. ‘Sad people are everywhere’ might not feel like an uplifting message, but The Sad Book allows us to talk about feelings that aren’t often shared in the open.

sad book

Mandy White in Jacqueline Wilson’s Bad Girls (QUICK READS 823.91 WIL) is a talented artist herself. Her parents are in their 60s and treat Mandy like a much younger child, forcing her to wear pink dresses and keep her hair in plaits. As a result, she is bullied at school and spends most of her time drawing pictures of her alter-ego, Miranda Rainbow, who has short hair and can wear whatever colour she likes! The bullying reaches crisis point just as term ends, and Mandy plans to spend the holidays hiding from the other kids. But much to her mum’s dismay, Mandy is befriended by the older girl next door, Tanya. Tanya is separated from her younger sister, placed in a last-chance foster home. Mandy provides Tanya with somebody to protect, and Tanya lends Mandy some much-needed confidence, but sheltered Mandy isn’t prepared for some of Tanya’s more grown-up summer activities. When the pair get into trouble, Mandy’s parents have the final say on whether Tanya gets to stay in her current home. Will they admit that they have been too strict with Mandy, or place even more restrictions on Mandy’s freedom?

bad girls

Nick Sharatt’s illustrations ‘as drawn by Mandy’

As in many of Wilson’s novels, the adults in Bad Girls are far from perfect. Though Mandy’s family is unusual by Wilson’s standards (her parents are still together and staunchly follow tradition) the story is underpinned by familiar themes: bullying, isolation and creativity. Some of the references in Bad Girls (Kurt Cobain and sparkly crop-tops!) place the novel somewhere in the mid-‘90’s, and while some of the dialogue feels a bit dated, Tanya still exudes the cool self-confidence that 10 year-old Mandy aspires to. Jacqueline Wilson was Children’s Laureate from 2005-2007, and continues to publish at least one book per year.

Check back later today (09.06.15) and discover the next Children’s Laureate!

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