Monday, 29 June 2009

Campaign for the Book

I had the honour of opening the Campaign for the Book Conference in Birmingham on Saturday. Some 200 delegates: public and school librarians, School Library Service staff, authors, publishers, library campaigners, academics, teachers, book bloggers and book lovers, assembled in King Edward’s School to hear inspirational speeches, evidence-based research and to join in through workshops and debate. The conference was a great success and we all came away inspired and elated.

Author, Alan Gibbons, started the Campaign a year ago now, as a personal response to the outrage he felt at how both the schools and public library services were being attacked and eroded. Sometimes one story, one incident, can act as a catalyst, pushing the individual over from concern to action. For Alan, it was the sacking of a young school librarian in Chesterfield, and the closing of her library, for no other reason than the school's desire to save money. She told her story at the Conference and received a standing ovation from delegates. Another catalyst was the news from the Wirral that the council were planning to axe over half their branch libraries, a number of them in some of the poorest, most deprived areas in the country. If this council succeeds, their lead will be followed by any council wanting to save money. It is something that should concern us all. To find out more about the Campaign for the Book and find out how you can help, go to . It is up to all of us who value books and libraries to act now.

In the words of Joni Mitchell, 'Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.' So join the campaign, support your local library service, your school library, and your school library service, before it is too late.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

I've had a busy couple of days in London. On Tuesday, I went to the reception for the new Children's Laureate. It was all a very well kept secret, but if I'd spotted the gent in question, I would have known it was him. I could not have been more pleased when we finally got to the 'without further ado' moment and the new laureate was announced. Anthony Browne. He is an immensely talented and distinguished illustrator, astonishingly creative, genuinely inspirational and a really nice guy. His picture books are extraordinarily clever, but instantly accessible; full of detail that re-pays looking and re-looking. Part of his success lies in the fact that adults and children both quickly become absorbed by his work, stepping into the immensely rich world he creates in his books. He has an enormous reputation abroad, and I hope that he can get the British to finally appreciate the great wealth of artists and illustrators that we have in this country. I also hope that he gets everybody to play the Shape Game!

Yesterday, I was helping to chair a quite extraordinary  meeting of all sorts of people: authors, illustrators, publishers, agents, librarians, teachers, teacher trainers, journalists, critics, representatives from organisations involved in promoting reading and literacy, booksellers, and others involved in the world of children's books. We were all there to hear Michael Rosen talk about how we can get reading for pleasure, for fun, for enjoyment back into our schools. All those terms don't really work. Independent reading is all those things, but much more. It is the way to independent thought and full intellectual maturity. There was much discussion and a lot of points raised. I'm not sure what will happen next, but something will. With Arnold Shwarzenegger wanting to rid schools of books altogether, something has to happen. Watch this space.