How To Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell has said emphasis must be placed on encouraging young people to read for pleasure as she was named Children’s Laureate.
The writer and illustrator, whose book series has been turned into a successful series of animated films, takes over the title from Lauren Child, who was laureate from 2017.
She told PA: “The overarching thing is that books and reading are all magic and for everyone, reading for the joy of it is so important.
“We collectively all have the sense that we cannot lose books.
“I love film and telly, they are all stories, but books have a special magic, they create in us something we cannot lose.
“We need books both in the future, it’s backed up by research that books create particularly good empathy, creativity and intelligence because they are about words and words are the pathway of thought.”
Cowell said she will use her two-year laureateship to tackle why the “magic isn’t getting to everyone, and is very unevenly distributed across the country”.
She has created her own “to do” list, which she has dubbed Cressida Cowell’s Waterstones Children’s Laureate Charter, which will state that every child has a right to access new books in schools, libraries and bookshops.
She said: “Nobody has been able to come up with a good answer to my question, that if you can’t afford books and you can’t go to the public library or if the library at school has been closed, how can you become a reader?
“The research is so tantalising, if you read for the joy of it you’re more likely to vote, own your own home.”
She added she will be willing to meet with Government to discuss whether school libraries should be statutory and part of Ofsted inspection, saying: “I’m hoping I will be in a good position to see if there is something we can suggest. I’m happy to discuss it, I see the importance of that.”
In a speech at Shakespeare’s Globe as she was announced as the new laureate, she said her charter also stipulates that all children should have the right to read for the joy of it, access advice from a trained librarian, own their own book, see themselves reflected in a book, be read aloud to and be offered some choice in what they read.
Children should also be allowed to be creative for at least 15 minutes a week, with no rules and no marking, should attend an author event at least once, and have the right to have a planet to read on.
She said: “One of the major themes in my books is looking after the environment, whether it be Viking oceans or wildwood forests, so inevitably I would want environmental advocacy to be some part of my laureateship.
“And just as a book is partly what I write but partly what the reader imagines, I hope that my laureateship will also be a tool to amplify the voices of children themselves.”