Isn’t it about time we started recognising children’s playwrights as valuable contributors to children’s reading and learning? We hear a lot about novelists and poets writing for children. Occasionally non-fiction gets promoted (Society of Authors, for instance, runs an annual award for children’s non-fiction ). But playwrights seem to be pretty much overlooked.
Children’s Laureate is a two year appointment run by the Booktrust and funded by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and ACE. Its purpose is to raise the profile of writing for children and young people, thereby encouraging more reading. Since 1999, the laureates have been Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen. Although several of these have had a great deal to do with theatre because their work has been adapted for stage, none is a playwright.
The current Children’s Laureate is Julia Donaldson author of The Gruffalo, among many other marvellous things. She too is tangentially involved with theatre. The Gruffalo is very successfully adapted for stage, has toured extensively and hundreds of thousands of children have seen it. There are also films of The Gruffalo and its sequels starring Helena Bonham-Carter and James Corden. And inevitably there are other spin-offs. Nonetheless Donaldson is not a playwright.
Libby Purves believes that David Wood should be Children’s Laureate for 2013/15. I’m right behind her.
It is time – in my view – that we had a Children’s Laureate whose main work is the writing of plays for young audiences. Part of the laureate brief is to travel the country meeting children, visiting schools, festivals and other events fizzing with enthusiasm about reading. The laureate’s job is to inspire and encourage young readers. Just think what a lively writer of plays could do to promote drama through reading and reading through drama.
Donaldson’s tenure ends in summer 2013 so the Booktrust must already be in the process of selecting a laureate for 2013/15. Last week I met Libby Purves, The Times’s lead theatre critic, at an afternoon press performance of a children’s show. She had seen, and was deeply impressed by David Wood’s adaption of Tom’s Midnight Garden which she’d seen that morning at Bloomsbury Theatre. Two weeks earlier I had reviewed (for the second time) Wood’s adaptation of Goodnight Mister Tom which is running at the Phoenix . Anyone out and about reviewing works for children sees a great deal of Wood’s work and it is always excellent. Many of his plays take enthused children straight back to the books they’re based on so he’s making a terrific contribution to young literacy too.
Libby believes that David Wood (chairman of Action for Children’s Arts), and a very personable and energetic ambassador, should be Children’s Laureate for 2013/15. “Will you join my campaign?” she asked me. I’m right behind her. Are you?