How do you turn kids into bookworms? All 10 children’s laureates share their tips

Michael Morpurgo, Quentin Blake, Julia Donaldson and more reveal the books that inspired them and how to keep children interested in a world of digital distractions

It began in front of a log fire after a convivial dinner with friends and neighbours, Ted and Carol Hughes. I was grumbling about the lack of attention and credit generally given in the adult world to children’s books. Hughes, poet laureate at the time, said something like:

“A fine children’s book is as important and worthwhile as any kind of literature, and maybe more so. Read and love a great story or poem when you’re young and the chances are that you’ll become a reader for life, and maybe a writer or an artist. Something should be done.”

“You’re the poet laureate,” I ventured, “maybe we should have a children’s laureate?”

It was a throwaway line. Then he said: “Why not? Let’s do it.” So the laureate story began, and took shape.

Quentin Blake was crowned our first children’s laureate on 10 May 1999. He set the standard, and in his two years brought the art of illustration of children’s books to the public eye in a way never done before. The first chapter was a stunning beginning and each of the nine since has taken the children’s laureate story in a different direction, always exciting, surprising, and enlightening. Each of the laureates has given fresh inspiration to so many thousands of readers, raising ever greater awareness of the importance of children’s literature in our culture and in our society. And like all the best stories, no one knows where the next chapter might lead us, and like the best books, we never want them to end. 

Michael Morpurgo

Quentin Blake

(Children’s laureate from 1999 – 2001)

I remember the book that almost stopped me reading was Oliver Twist, which I was given to read when I was too young. Fortunately I came back to Dickens later, when I thought it was absolutely amazing. I have since read all the books, some of them twice. A simpler story is a book that I illustrated, by my friend John Yeoman, called FeatherbrainsIt tells the story of two chickens who escape from a battery farm and are introduced to the wide world through the wisdom of a friendly jackdaw.

Anne Fine

(2001 – 2003)

Like almost everyone else my age, I was turned into a reader by Enid Blyton. I also adored Anthony Buckeridge’s books about Jennings and his prep school. But Richmal Crompton’s William was my favourite character. I had almost all of the 39 books, and he became my imaginary brother and the perfect companion: lippy, irrepressible, and inventive to an almost pathological degree.

Children have never been famed for taking sensible advice, but are superb at following a poor example. So if a parent spends most of their own time peering at screens, they can scarcely expect anything different from their offspring. Add to this the fact that all studies show that children who are read to every night do better in school – even in maths…

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