Tuesday, 26 April 2011
The Noble Art of Laureateship - Lucy Coats
The children's laureate should be, above all, an ambassador for children's books. Each of the six holders of the post so far has highlighted different areas of concern--the latest, Anthony Browne, has concentrated his two years on showing the vital part illustrators and picture books in general play in the education of children. But is a chain-bookstore branded ambassador going to be welcomed by, forinstance, independent booksellers? Kate Agnew, (of the indie Children's Bookshop in Muswell Hill) has warned that the laureateship might be marginalised by such a move. "It could be seen as a trade thing rather than as an ambassadorial role," she said to The Bookseller last week. That, I feel, would be very a very unfortunate outcome indeed.
But we do live in a world of financial cuts. The current government grant for the laureateship has been halved and compromises have had to be made. Waterstone's have been major supporters of the laureateship ever since its inception, and the new branding is 'payback' for their loyalty in a time when every penny spent by a company has to show a result. They themselves say that they will be 'upweighting' (a word I have never seen used before, but still...) their activities around the role, and will promote heavily. Indies will get a 'non-Waterstone's logo to use. In principle it could all work out just fine.
I do think though, that the new Children's Laureate (sorry, I mean WCL), will have to be very strong-minded--and be prepared to fight their corner and not be pushed around. More than ever now, we need someone highly visible and vocal to stand up and speak for children's books, for libraries and school libraries, for reading in general--and against the cultural policies of the Government of the day if necessary. I hope the Children's Laureate Steering Group will bear this in mind when they are making their choice--and I trust that Waterstone's will give our new champion--whoever he or she is--all the support they need and deserve, free of any strings or caveats.