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Laureate Log #8

One of the most inspiring occasions I've been to in this period was the prize-giving of the Sheffield Children's Book Award. The City Hall was packed to the rafters with children from schools all over Sheffield, waiting to see which of the books they had read and voted on had won. It was the twentieth anniversary of the Award and Martin Waddell, the first ever winner, was there along with many of the shortlisted authors, illustrators and their publishers. There were wonderful film sequences of the children talking about the books and then afterwards, hundreds of children queued to get their books signed. Halfway through this, my lightbulb went on again: every locality in the country could do their version of the award, with every school and child getting engaged in choosing which are their best books. It would mean cooperation between libraries, the local education authority, schools, parents, bookshops and the Children's Book Group. Is this possible? What's needed to make it happen? Anything I can do to help?

Meanwhile, I've been doing my usual visits. By the way, they are organised by the amazing Jan and Kate Powling at jan@speakingofbooks.co.uk or, when it's a Children's Laureate event, by the equally amazing Sasha Hoare at Booktrust at Sasha.Hoare@booktrust.org.uk. It was Sasha who set up an incredible launch for Children's Book Week at the London Eye, where we had some 200 children up in the capsules and then writing a huge poem at Southbank Centre in which the Eye talks to the Thames. You can read it on the Booktrust website.

The National Year of Reading held a conference where I read my NYR poem (find the poem on the NYR website). I've begun a scary cooperation with scintillating jazz musicians from the Homemade Orchestra who took my nonsense poems and turned them into a jazz oratorio. We've played Newbury, Guildford and the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre. I've performed in Rye, at the Bath Festival of Children's Literature; did three picture book shows with a wonderful Indian writer, Anushka Ravishankar, in Bexhill, Oxford and the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the Children's Book Show. I've performed my own shows for children in schools or theatres in Dartford, Telford, the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon, the American School in St John's Wood, the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Canterbury and Swindon.

I took part in a seminar at Birkbeck College on social realism in children's literature with Kimberley Reynolds and Julia Bell. I was very pleasantly grilled at 'Connecting Conversations' at the Institute of Psychoanalysis and at SPACE in Brighton. I read at an event for local writers at Stamford Hill Library; spoke on bereavement in Berkshire, read to students at York St John's University.

My yearlong poetry course for teachers at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education has begun. I took part in a fantastic four days of poetry workshops at the Barbican ('Can I Have a Word?') based on an exhibition of photographs from the Spanish Civil War.

Laureate projects progress with the British Library exhibition (April-June 2009) and conference (April 20 & 21: enrol now!). The first Roald Dahl Funny Prizes were awarded; the schools' performance poetry website - 'Perform-a-poem' - is being designed at Booktrust and the A-Z of Poetry Tour will become a book with Puffin. 

A 'play for voices' I wrote about my locality, 'Hackney Streets', was performed at the Rosemary Branch Theatre and my version of 'Pinocchio' is running at the Polka Theatre, Wimbledon. The University of Worcester awarded me an Honorary MA, Birkbeck College made me a Visiting Professor, France made me a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In between, 'The Wright Stuff' (Five) have had me on regularly to do a 'reading clinic' - advice for parents on their children's reading.



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