Cressida Cowell, who has been named as the new Children’s Laureate, is ready to do battle to encourage children to love books.
“The telly is glorious but that’s the competition,” said The How To Train Your Dragon author following her appointment on Tuesday.
Cowell is the 11th person to take on the role aimed at inspiring children to read and write more.
She succeeds Lauren Child and will hold the laureate title for two years.
“Books and reading are magic and this magic must be available to absolutely everyone,” said Cowell.
“I’m honoured to be chosen… I will be a laureate who fights for books and children’s interests with passion, conviction and action.
“Practical magic, empathy and creative intelligence, is the plan.”
Cowell said she had a “to-do list” with a 10-point plan but there were two things on her list that were “most urgent”.
Boosting creative writing in schools and halting the decline of primary school libraries will be the focus of her attention in the first instance.
“Children should have more creative space in the curriculum [to write]. At least 15 minutes a week,” she told BBC News.
Cressida Cowell’s 10-point plan for children
1. Read for the joy of it
2. Access NEW books in schools, libraries and bookshops
3. Have advice from a trained librarian or bookseller
4. Own their OWN book
5. See themselves reflected in a book
6. Be read aloud to
7. Put a book down if they’re not enjoying it
8. Be creative for at least 15 minutes a week
9. See an author event at least ONCE
10. Have a planet to read on
Cowell has become a bestselling author in 38 languages with her How to Train Your Dragon and The Wizards of Once book series. She also illustrates most of her stories.
How to Train Your Dragon was made into an award-winning film series, and a series for TV.
Cowell is also an ambassador for the National Literacy Trust, a trustee for World Book Day and a founder patron of the Children’s Media Foundation.
What does the Children’s Laureate do?
The Children’s Laureate role is intended to “promote and encourage children’s interest in books, reading and writing”.
But what have others actually done with the position?
Cowell has already experimented with what she dubs “free-writing Fridays” last year, she said.
Children “could write whatever they wanted and the teacher couldn’t mark it”.
The idea came in response to families and teachers contacting her because their children didn’t enjoy writing anymore.
“They were worried about handwriting, spelling etc. This can be the negative effect of Sats (primary school tests),” she explained.
“We need rules but there also needs to be a space for children to be able to create just for the joy of it. Children who write for pleasure do better academically anyway, research says.
“The effect [of the 15 minutes] can be transformative – some teachers told me kids wanted to carry on in their breaks!”
Cowell pointed out the other benefits, such as positive mental health and encouraging young people to enter the creative industries, which are “growing twice as fast as the rest of the economy”.
She said she also hopes to halt the closure of primary school libraries and suggests they could become statutory.
Cowell said that despite many attempts by previous children’s laureates, “no-one has answered the question, ‘If your children can’t afford books and you don’t have a public library… and your primary school library has closed, how can you become a reader for the joy of it?’
“I love films and TV but books offer something special and different, bringing out creativity, empathy and intelligence.
“Primary school libraries I’m going to be looking at in particular – should they be statutory, should they be part of the Ofsted inspection?”
She said: “If you read for the joy, regardless of socio-economic background, you’re more likely to be successful academically. But swatersocio-economic factors get in the way of reading for joy. So how do we address this?”
In taking over from Lauren Child, Cowell added that she was delighted as well as honoured.
“I’m completely thrilled. They told me six months ago. I’ve been up for it before… a lot of the previous laureates have been heroes of mine, it’s a real honour, I’m hoping I can take the role and make a difference.”
Cowell was appointed at a ceremony at London’s Shakespeare Globe.
The laureate is chosen by a panel of judges from the book world, who also consider names put forward by children who can vote online.
Other previous holders of the title include Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson.