Congratulations on being nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Again! Can you tell us a little bit about this Award and what it means to you?
Well it’s an international award for children’s literature, funded by the Swedish government in honour of the great Swedish children’s writer Astrid Lindgren.
It’s an amazingly generous award, about A$700,000. It can go to a writer, illustrator, storyteller or anyone active in promoting children’s reading, including organisations, anywhere in the world. It’s only been going since 2003 and already two Australians have won it – Sonia Hartnett and Shaun Tan – so that’s pretty good going!
One thing I really like about the award is that it’s for “a body of sustained work”, so it’s not for one particular book, like many prizes. Obviously I’m utterly thrilled and astonished (and grateful) to be nominated. A real highlight.
You are a powerful advocate for children’s literature. What do you find so special about children’s stories?
For me, children’s stories are about big things that children experience - however small they may sometimes seem to us – big feelings, big discoveries, which can be intense, brief, funny, mysterious, surreal. What you hope for in a book is that a child finds in it an expression of what they’re thinking and feeling and wondering about, and through that they also come to know the astonishing power of language and literature, which then stays with them all their lives.
As a Member of the Speech Pathology Australia’s Hall of Fame, a recipient of nine Premier’s and State Literary Awards as well as a CBCA Book of the Year, what do you bring to your stories that is different?
I guess I can only say what I try to do! Which is to try to inhabit the mind of a child and see and feel the world as a child sees and feels it. I think this is different to “looking back” although obviously memory of my own childhood is very influential. But while I’m writing, I try to re-inhabit that mind of a child, rather than remember it or observe it from a distance. So that includes using the language of children, which can certainly be both sophisticated and expressive, but different to the language of adults.
In Australia, where 46% of the adult working population do not have sufficient literacy skills for their daily needs, what can we do to increase literacy skills across all generations??
Libraries, libraries, libraries! Anyone can join a local library – it’s free to go in, free to look at the books. If you want to take books home, often it’s free to join, or at least only a very small one-off fee. The more time people spend in libraries, the more at home they will feel in the world of words. Libraries, importantly, have open stacks that people can wander around, pick something off the shelf at will and sit and look at and wonder about without distraction.
If a parent asked you for advice on one thing they could do to support a love of reading in their children, what would it be?
Take your children to the local library as often as you can! Encourage your children to try all kinds of books, to try everything. Picture books, non-fiction, fiction, comic books, ebooks – they’re all in the library.
I was in my local library every week as a child, just wandering around the shelves picking up books, experimenting, discovering, finding my own taste. I don’t think I ever went into a bookshop as a child – only a library realistically can provide that constant supply of books, some of which enchant, some of which disappoint, where a child or adult can develop an ongoing relationship with literature.
Learn more about Ursula at her website, and you can learn more on the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award right here.