'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.' - author Jackie French

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Interview: Australian Children's Laureates Alison Lester and Boori Monty Pryor

Illustrating the Kuprilya Song, Ntaria School

Something extraordinarily exciting has been happening over the past eighteen months. Australia has been introduced to the inaugural Children's Laureate-–a national ambassador program dedicated to promoting reading, writing, imagination, creativity and storytelling.

The role of the Children's Laureate for 2012 and 2013 is shared by two eminent and much-loved children's authors, Alison Lester and Boori Monty Pryor.

Bradshaw Primary Teacher/Librarian Talk on Book Making
Appointed on a biennial basis, Children's Laureates work to promote the power of reading and story in the lives of young Australians, acting as national and international ambassadors for Australian children's literature.

At the heart of our inaugural Laureates' experience has been an extensive national touring program, visiting every state and territory during their two-year term. By the end of their Laureateship they will have spent more than 100 days touring Australia and working with an estimated 10,000 children/families in over 50 locations. The Children's Laureate website and blog celebrates the success of the project with an eclectic assortment of textual and visual responses from students and teachers all over Australia, as well as commentary of the Laureates themselves.

‘Being able to read well is like having a gold pass to the world.' - Alison Lester

The Laureates make a splash wherever they go, but the outcomes of visits to children and communities in areas without the same opportunities as city kids has been most extraordinary. The regional and remote events associated with the Laureate program have established a network of communities, now actively sharing in and of Australian literary life.

So, what does Boori Monty Pryor think of all this? Let's ask him, shall we?

Monty:

The Laureate has made people think about literacy and literature, because people have to work out what being a ‘Laureate' is. When you say I'm an electrician or a plumber, people can imagine what you do. When you say I am the Laureate – their initial reaction might be ‘what is that!?'.

What I love is that when you tell people, especially kids, it is something they want to know more about. All the kids I tell go online straight away. They've been studying my books but now they have something else to look up as well.

Being a Laureate is still the same as being a writer but it has its own special place, which then puts literature into a special place. It signifies that it is important. What's great is when you hear the kids telling the teacher what a Laureate is because they've gone away and learnt about it.

I suppose having an Australian ‘Children's Laureateship' program also acts like a beacon for writers. Even if I wasn't the Laureate I would still be pleased for the industry that the role had been created for writers and illustrators of children's books... It shines the light on all of us.

And Alison Lester?

Alison Lester reading Noni the Pony
at Larapinta Primary School
Alison:

It has been an honour and delight to be the first Australian Children's Laureate with Boori. I have loved travelling around the country, meeting children and helping them turn their stories into books. But visiting so many schools has really brought home to me just how badly we fail some of our children.

Often I am working with kids who are well on the way to being good readers. But sometimes I meet children who are already miles behind in junior primary school. Many of them come from homes with not much hope and no books.

Imagine if these poor families had access to free quality childcare. It would give disadvantaged children the start they need. Instead of arriving at school not knowing how to hold a book they would already be reading when they got there.

During my time as Laureate, the importance of school librarians has become more and more obvious to me. Many schools, faced with teacher quotas and funding decisions choose not to have a librarian. I have even heard of schools throwing out all their books. A librarian can make the school library the vibrant centre of the school, help students learn to read and show parents and teachers ways of encouraging reading.

It should be mandatory that every school has a librarian.

Head to the Australian Children's Laureate website for more on this priceless initiative. 

Bradshaw primary teachers and librarians creating This is My Place postcards

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