Waterstones’ New Children’s Laureate on ‘Reading Rights’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Frank Cottrell-Boyce says that his tenure as the Waterstones Children’s Laureate ‘will have happiness at its heart, but will be about urgency.’

Frank Cottrell-Boyce. Image: Waterstones, David Bebber

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Reading as a Right ‘
As was mentioned during both the 2024 Readmagine conference in Madrid and the 2024 World Expression Forum (WEXFO) in Lillehammer, both in the late spring, there’s a distinct sense this year that the world book publishing industry is moving closer to politics—from issues in censorship and diversity to questions of authoritarianism’s threats to the freedoms of expression, reading, and publishing.

It will come to some with both a sense of appreciation and a curious lack of surprise in such an era that the announcement today (July 2) in Leeds that author and screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce has been named the 2024-to-2026 Waterstones Children’s Laureate came with the opening of a new campaign.

“Reading Rights: Books Build a Brighter Future” is the name of the campaign, and Cottrell-Boyce describes its intent as “to get reading as a right for all into the national conversation.”

In that endeavor, he has today leveraged this week’s first national election in the United Kingdom in almost five years, as the prime minister Rishi Sunak and his Conservatives brace for what’s expected to be a furious vote for change promised by Labour.

“Whoever wins Thursday’s election has a huge responsibility. Whoever we wake up to Friday morning, they have the power to make a revolutionary change in children’s lives.”Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Waterstones Children's Laureate

At today’s passing of the Children’s Laureate torch, the outgoing honoree was on hand to give Cottrell-Boyce the award’s silver medal. Joseph Coelho, Cottrell-Boyce’ predecessor in the award, has just won the Yoto Carnegie medal in writing for The Boy Lost in the Maze, which is illustrated by Kate Milner and published by Otter-Barry Books.

In accepting the award and opening his new campaign, Cottrell-Boyce said, “Our children are living through the aftermath of a series of crises, the pandemic, a series of wars, and an unfolding environmental crisis. The only public conversation is about how we can make our children ‘catch up’—which seems to me a kind of code for forgetting this ever happened. None of us has the slightest idea about what the future now holds for them–but the one thing we do know is that they will need to know how to be happy.

“Every child has to have the opportunity to begin to build the apparatus of happiness within themselves.

“I will use my time as Waterstones Children’s Laureate to call for a reset in our attitude toward how we value children’s books and reading—to start this story again—and to campaign for the millions of children living in poverty to be given the same life-changing chances. To stand up for the children in this country and their ‘reading rights.’

“So, whoever wins Thursday’s election has a huge responsibility. Whoever we wake up to Friday morning, they have the power to make a revolutionary change in children’s lives.”

‘A Britain That’s a Stranger to Equality’

Illustrating the seriousness with which he’s taking his new appointment, Cottrell-Boyce in his comments today said:

“I write children’s books because I think they help build the apparatus of happiness inside us. I’m privileged to be part of those intimate, crucial, person-forming moments when people share stories with the children in their lives. I’m privileged to visit schools up and down the country–to read to children, and to see a Britain that is innovative, eccentric, funny, up for it, open-hearted.

“But I also get to see a different Britain. A Britain that is not fair. A Britain that’s a stranger to equality.

“For too long, the life-changing benefits of children’s reading have not been taken seriously. And now–as our children face an unknown future–we risk losing a generation unless we act.

“So, my tenure as Waterstones Children’s Laureate will have happiness at its heart, but it will be about urgency.

“It will be about addressing invisible privilege and inequality.  It will be about the increasing number of children in poverty being left further and further behind.  It will be about calling for national provision so that every child–from their earliest years–has access to books, reading and the transformative ways in which they improve long-term life chances.

“It will be about campaigning for a visible sign that this country values its children–to show them they are important. That they are in fact our only hope.”

Cottrell-Boyce’s Work

Cottrell-Boyce—a Pan Macmillan author—won the Carnegie Medal, himself, with a debut children’s novel titled Millions.

His other books include Cosmic, Framed, The Astounding Broccoli Boy, Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth, Runaway Robot, Noah’s Gold, and The Wonder Brothers. His work has benefited from a longtime collaboration with illustrator Steven Lenton.

In screen work, Cottrell-Boyce has written for Doctor Who and his script for Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom won a British Animation Award. Along with Danny Boyle, he devised the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics. He has been the judge for the 500 Words competition and the BBC’s One Show “As You Write It” competition.

The Waterstones Children’s Laureate Program

The biennial Waterstones designation of a children’s book author is managed by the charity BookTrust and sponsored by the retail chain led by James Daunt. The program is noted for how its honorees bring their own issues and goals to their two-year tenures in the role.

Prior to Joseph Coelho, who was the laureate this year and last, the list of previous holders of the honor comprises:

  • Quentin Blake (1999-2001)
  • Anne Fine (2001-2003)
  • Michael Morpurgo (2003-2005)
  • Jacqueline Wilson (2005-2007)
  • Michael Rosen (2007-2009)
  • Anthony Browne (2009-2011)
  • Julia Donaldson (2011-2013)
  • Malorie Blackman (2013-2015)
  • Chris Riddell (2015-2017)
  • Lauren Child (2017-2019)
  • Cressida Cowell (2019-2022)

More from Publishing Perspectives on children’s books is here, more from us on publishing and book awards programs is here, and more on the UK market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.