During my fantastic two-day visit to Chase Lane Primary School in Chingford last week, no one asked every author’s least favourite question. The children – all seven hundred of them – were far too bright and curious for anything so dull.
A real Space Penguin?
Instead, I was asked about my use of describing words by a girl in Year Two, and whether I used blurb, and how long penguins live for, and whether penguins in space are real, and if I had books in Chinese, and what book I would recommend for a girl not interested in girly stuff. ‘That penguin in space. Was it dead?’ was dealt with to everyone’s satisfaction as I explained that the Hubble telescope’s picture of a space penguin was in fact a photograph of stars and nebulae and red bits for which I had no name. I was able to tell them that yes I had met most of the authors they mentioned, although caveats applied to David Walliams. I have yet to establish whether he heard me in the Bristol University Union circa 1989 in my band, the Smokin’ Bristols, but live in hope.
Meet and greet
I learned about aunts called Lucy and sisters called Courtney. I was told about trips to the seaside, and sick brothers, and pets. I saw for myself the esteem in which the children held their books in every single classroom’s beautifully themed Book Corners, designed to celebrate Book Week – hot air balloons, jungles, castles, spaceships, bedrooms and caves and tents – and had the unenviable task of judging them.
SPACE PENGUINS 5:
Out 3 March 2014
Everywhere I went, I was followed by excitable whispering. That’s her! Hi Lucy! It’s Lucy Courtenay! I was a rock star. I was a TV celebrity.
I was an author.
Malorie Blackman is the new Children’s Laureate 2013-2015. A triumphant choice. Here’s what I would like to see her do.
- Introduce a primetime weekly TV show where people discuss children’s books with wit and humour while armed with large bags of Tangfastics. I will happily go on that show. Tangfastics fuel a tremendous urge for dialogue within me, plus a desire to climb trees and surf down Firgrove Hill on an ironing board. Haribo might like to sponsor this show.
- Talking of ironing boards, let’s encourage people to act out famous scenes from children’s books like Alex Rider’s ironing board stunt in Point Blanc and post them up on social media with links to bookshops. (I am happy to volunteer. Price, one box of Tangfastics.)
- Have a different celebrity a month commit to carrying a children’s book with them wherever they go, so children can see a book as an awesome accessory considerably less painful than a belly ring.
- Ensure that national newspapers dedicate a quarter of their book review space to children’s books, as an accurate reflection of the 1 in 4 books sold today being children’s titles. (Thank you, outgoing Laureate Julia Donaldson for raising this.)
- Start a guerrilla library movement. Set up libraries in unlikely places. Overnight. WITH NO WARNING. Make them mysterious, not municipal.
- Encourage adults to hold children’s book clubs. Not children’s book-clubs, but CHILDREN’S-BOOK CLUBS. Instead of talking endlessly about Fifty Shades of Boring, grown-ups can read and discuss, for example, funny cancer, the perils of floating, parallel worlds and the role of dragons in society. They can then make informed choices for their children, passing on those books which have caused genuine tears / laughter / bladder-control issues instead of blind-buying titles they have vaguely heard of or maybe read themselves in Upper Fourth in 1953.
- Enshrine library lessons in schools.
- Make sure every primary school child has a library card.
What? The library card one’s already in hand? Hot damn, I knew she was a good choice.