As a brand new edition of his spoken poem Chocolate Cake is released as a picture book for the very first time, S4K editor Nadia Duncan catches up with the marvellous Michael Rosen…
Q) As a former Children’s Laureate, do you have any advice for us parents who struggle to keep our children into books and off screens?
All we can ever do is try to make the choosing and reading of books as enjoyable as we can! So, I would say that we need to let children choose books for themselves as often as possible, whether that’s in libraries, at home, at school or anywhere. We need to encourage children to make time and space to read, so that might sometimes be where we all read together. It’s always worth giving reading out loud a go, whether that’s bedtime, or in school, in assemblies or wherever. I would say that we should never be afraid of ‘tie-ins’ with films and TV programmes and we should never be afraid of the trivial – joke books, collections of silly quotes, fun facts, and the like. We have to remember that part of the message of reading is not only the messages in the book, but the over-riding message that if this book is worth reading there might be another that is worth reading too.
Q) You previously crowned yourself an official ‘ambassador of fun’ do you think we become less fun as we grow older?
Adult life is full of worries and cares and responsibilities. It does become harder to find fun, have fun, or even to be funny! If we are parents, teachers or carers, it’s of course very easy to pass on this sense of being burdened by anxiety and care. We adults have memories of our parents and grandparents being weighed down at least sometimes. One of the ways for us as adults to have moments where that burden is relieved is to have fun with our kids.
Q) Your much-loved title We’re Going On A Bear Hunt can be found on nearly every child’s bookshelf across the land. What is the secret to creating such a classic read for kids and did its popularity come as a surprise?
I was very lucky with this book in that the making of such a classic was only partly a result of anything I did. What I did to start off with was to learn how to perform what I thought was an American summer camp song and/or a Brownies’ song. I performed it as part of my ‘act’ when I go into schools. The head of Walker Books, David Lloyd saw me doing it, and said it would make a great book. He got me to rewrite it so that it worked on the page, asked Helen Oxenbury to do the pictures and the rest is history! The genius is in the repetition and plot which Helen has turned into the many adventures of a family out in the English countryside. I can call that ‘genius’ because that wasn’t me!
Q) Was chocolate cake really your favourite treat as a child and what sort of childhood memories does a delicious piece of chocolate cake bring back?
It was certainly ONE of my favourite treats. I had others, especially a treat my mother made called ‘cinnamon balls’ – a spicy sweetmeat that Jewish people often eat at festival time. All these treats bring back good times at home with my parents and my brother. My childhood was very free and I was cared for very well. I was very lucky and we had lots of fun and funny times together.
Q) What do you recommend kids should take to school with them to stay happy if they don’t have a slice of yummy chocolate cake?
Always look for a book to keep you company. Always have a book ‘on the go’, as my Dad used to say. This way you’re always in the middle of someone else’s story as well as your own.
Michael’s YouTube performance of Chocolate Cake is a bona fide sensation with over 3 million views to date. If you haven’t seen it yet, grab the kids and gather round for a real treat.
Fantastically funny and full of silly noises this is a love letter to every child’s, and parent’s, favourite treat. Chocolate Cake by Michael Rosen with pictures by Kevin Waldron is published by Puffin. Hardback £12.99.