The current laureate Chris Riddell has worked wonders in the role, energetically waving the banner for children’s literature with one hand while deftly drawing an endless stream of characterful illustrations with the other. When Riddell first took on the Laureateship he announced that his focus would be to “use the immediacy and universality of illustration to bring people together and lead them all into the wonderful world of books and reading, whilst championing creativity in schools and beyond”.
|Some of the non-fiction books that helped turn me into a lifelong reader.|
I’m principally a fiction author but, like many children of my generation, non-fiction played a critical role in establishing my reading habit and turning me into a lifelong reader. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s the children’s sections of bookshops and libraries were as well stocked with non-fiction titles as they were with storybooks. Mainstream publishers like Ladybird excelled at publishing books that reflected the most obscure childhood interests and enthusiasms, from crochet to car mechanics. By responding to the breadth and diversity of children’s interests in this way, non-fiction books were often able to engage the reluctant readers that fiction could not reach.
|From crochet to car mechanics, publishers like Ladybird excelled at reflecting the breadth and diversity of childhood interests.|
The children’s book market has changed a lot since then. It’s now far bigger, and far less balanced in terms of fiction and non-fiction. While children’s books about crochet and car mechanics are still being published, a child interested in either – or any other non-mainstream non-fiction topic – is far less likely to discover them in a landscape dominated by children's fiction. Non-fiction has become the Cinderella of children’s publishing and many children who might otherwise have become readers are turning their backs on books because of this.
There is a growing acceptance of the need to redress the balance and promote children’s non-fiction more effectively. Campaigns like FCBG’s Non-Fiction November are already helping to do this, but there is still a long, long way to go. Appointing a non-fiction author or illustrator as the next Children’s Laureate would provide an invaluable boost to the profile of children's non-fiction and represent a huge step in the right direction. And many children that are initially hooked into reading by non-fiction go on to become avid fiction readers, so appointing a non-fiction Laureate could benefit children's fiction too.
I’ve been asking around for the names of non-fiction authors and illustrators who might make a good Laureate and some of the suggestions I received are shown below. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive list and I don't know if any of these people would be willing to take on the role, but I'm hoping it will help to set the ball rolling on a debate about who might fit the bill.
Catherine Chambers enjoys writing about history, cultures and religions, and reckons that sport can satisfy all three. Her books include Stickmen's Guide To The Sky - Uncovered and Goal! How Football Conquered the World
Nicola Davies is a zoologist and one of the original presenters of the BBC children's wildlife programme The Really Wild Show. Her books include A First Book of Nature, illustrated by Mark Herald and Poo: A Natural History of the Unmentionable, illustrated by Neal Layton.
Anita Ganeri is the author of the award-winning Horrible Geography series including Planet in Peril which won the Blue Peter Book Award - Best Book with Facts 2009. Her other books include The Explorer’s Handbook: How to Be the Best Around the World.
Tony Robinson came to fame playing the role of Baldrick in Blackadder. He has won the Blue Peter Book Award - Best Book with Facts award twice, for The Worst Children's Jobs in History, illustrated by Mike Phillips in 2007 and for Weird World of Wonders: World War II, illustrated by Del Thorpe in 2014.
Andy Seed is the author of The Silly Book of Side-Splitting Stuff, illustrated by Scott Garret, which won the Blue Peter Book Award - Best Book with Facts 2015. His other non-fiction books include The Anti_Boredom Book of Brilliant things To Do, also illustrated by Scott Garret.
If you have any more suggestions, I’d love to hear them in the comments box below. You might find some names you'd like to suggest on the NIBWEB children's non-fiction website. If you’re on Twitter or Facebook, you could also tweet your suggestion for a possible non-fiction laureate using the #NonFictLaureate hashtag. With a bit of luck, we might just persuade the Laureate selection panel to appoint a much-needed Fairy Godmother to this Cinderella of children’s books.
UPDATE 20/1/17: The suggestion that the next Children's Laureate be a non-fiction author or illustrator has had a good reception on social media. You can read some of the responses in the Twitter collection here. And here are some more non-fiction authors and illustrators that have been suggested (either on social media or in the comments below) in response to this post:
- Terry Deary http://www.terry-deary.com
- Fiona MacDonald https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/52259.Fiona_MacDonald
- John Malam http://www.johnmalam.co.uk
- Kelly Milner Halls http://www.wondersofweird.com
- Jackie Morris http://www.jackiemorris.co.uk
- Anne Rooney http://www.annerooney.com
- Louie Stowell https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/334966.Louie_Stowell
- Isabel Thomas http://isabelthomas.co.uk
- Jenny Vaughan http://www.jennypvaughan.co.uk