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Charlie and Lola creator Lauren Child named children’s laureate

The much loved author and illustrator will succeed Chris Riddell as a national champion of books for youngsters

‘I learned a lot from television’ … Lauren Child.
‘I learned a lot from television’ … Lauren Child. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

Lauren Child, the author-illustrator of the much loved Charlie and Lola books, has been named the new Waterstones children’s laureate, succeeding fellow author and illustrator Chris Riddell to the two-year post.

In the lead-up to the announcement of her appointment on Wednesday, Child took the opportunity to criticise the pressure on parents to oversee all of their children’s time.

“I will be talking a lot about the need for children to be allowed to be creative, without being micromanaged and directed,” said Child, whose work also includes the Clarice Bean picture books and Ruby Redfort novels.

Adding that she believed children needed to be allowed the “freedom to discover”, Child said she had been inspired by feedback from readers. “One of the questions I get asked most by children is where do I get my ideas from – as if there’s a sort of place where you find ideas or it’s a talent,” she said.

A multiple award-winning writer and artist, Child criticised the burden on parents to fill their children’s lives with activities “as if you aren’t a good parent if you are not signing your child up to all sorts of activities or taking them to galleries”.

“The pressure on parents to keep filling their children with information and experiences is too much,” she added. “Being bored is how you create things.”

The new laureate began writing and illustrating books while working as an artist’s assistant to Damien Hirst. Her first books, I Want a Pet and Clarice Bean, That’s Me were both published in 1999. The Clarice Bean series has since gone on to sell 6m copies worldwide.

Lola in the Charlie and Lola books.
Lola in the Charlie and Lola books. Illustration: Lauren Child/Hachette Childrens

Most famous for the Charlie and Lola books – the first of which won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2000 – Child said that much of her own inspiration came from periods of boredom as a child. “My parents were like Charlie and Lola’s, where they were around, maybe in the garden or the next room, but not constantly interacting with us,” she said. “I remember hours and hours messing about with my sisters or sat in my own room making things.” The TV series that sprang from the books, on which Child is an associate producer, has since gone on to win Baftas and airs in more than 34 countries.

Speaking from Hull, the 2017 City of Culture, where she was presented with her medal by outgoing laureate Chris Riddell on Wednesday, Child said she hoped to work with artists as well as writers and illustrators during her time in office. “I would love to talk to other artists whose work I admire,” she explained. “I think it is important for children to know we have our influences and get inspiration from all around us.”

Child poverty will also be at the forefront of Child’s laureateship, and she added her voice to those critical of plans to scrap free dinners for primary schoolchildren. “Children can’t learn if they are hungry,” said the author, who has worked with Unesco on its Education of Children in Need programme. “How can we expect them to take on all this information when they are going without anything to eat?”

Also on her agenda over the next two years will be raising the profile of the artistry involved in children’s book illustration. “There is this misconception that illustrators are constantly thinking about children and what they want or what’s commercial, but that is not true. Most illustrators are doing it because they need to create and love illustrating,” she said.

The 51-year-old is the 10th writer to take the children’s laureateship, a role that originated in a conversation between the then poet laureate Ted Hughes and children’s writer Michael Morpurgo. As well as the medal, the recipient also receives £15,000 bursary.

Asked if Damien Hirst would figure in her plans, Child said it was too early to say, but added that the attitude of the renowned British artist, once the most prominent provocateur of the Young British Artists, had been an inspiration. “He wanted to employ people who wanted to do something else, who had a vision of what they wanted to create,” she said. “He was not precious about his work; he was very generous.”

One area that Child will not criticise will be children’s viewing habits. TV, she said, was neither good nor bad, and credited watching the box as a child for giving her the confidence to read. “My sister was a bookworm, but though I was a reader, it was not with that speediness that gives you confidence to choose books yourself.” Watching adaptations of books by E Nesbit and others, helped her find books with stories she would enjoy, she added. “I learned a lot from television,” she said. “I learned all about storytelling and writing dialogue, and some of those shows I watched drove me to books because I loved the adaptations.”

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Courtesy: https://www.theguardian.com

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