Legendary children’s writer and UK Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child, is back with one of her most popular characters in a brand-new, laugh-out-loud story about the rather unconventional Bobton-Trents, giving us the perfect opportunity for a chat on creativity and how to get kids reading.
Q) As the Waterstones Children’s Laureate for 2017-19 what are you enjoying most about your role and what do you think is the greatest responsibility that comes with it?
I’m really enjoying it. I didn’t really know what it would be like, except that I was warned that I wouldn’t have time to do anything else. That hasn’t been the case. It has been tremendously busy but it has actually given me a lot of energy. Physically, I’m exhausted – but mentally I feel more interested and engaged than I ever did before.
It is a responsibility, but it is also a great opportunity to make things happen, to start conversations about these important issues and bring together people and organisations that can make a difference.
We’ve created resources and a website, Staring into Space, to encourage people to spend time looking, listening and making things just because they’re driven to create. Every great success, business, invention – it’s all powered by the creative mind. If we can encourage that in children, we will be promoting good mental health and happiness too. I also want to talk about diversity. We need books written and illustrated by, and about people from all backgrounds and cultures. As a child, you need to seeyourself reflected in the stories you read in order to really feel part of society.
Q) You are a passionate advocate for visual literacy. Why do you believe quality picture books are so important for younger children?
Literature can be life-changing for children and the first art we really get up close to is in picture books. Visual images speak to everyone and surpass language. If you can see them, you can read them. They are about feeling and reacting and communicating something of ourselves.
Q) Your first Charlie and Lola book ‘I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato’ was published in 2000 and the books and TV series have been a huge success worldwide. Did you have a particular inspiration for the characters and why do you think they are so popular?
The Charlie and Lola stories are about that whole imaginative side of being a child. Perhaps that’s why people like them, because we recognise ourselves in the characters. Initially, I wanted to write a book about fussing over food because I was a such a picky eater as a child. I took the adults completely out of the equation so all of the words are conversations between Charlie and Lola, all the actions come from their imagination. Lola was inspired by a little girl I saw on a train in Denmark. That’s really where it came from – just seeing somebody that I thought was rather enchanting and then working a story around that character.
Q) Another successful series which launched in 2011, Ruby Redfort, is about a very strong, sassy girl spy. Did you feel it was particularly important to have a female protagonist considering the lack of central girl characters across children’sfiction and do you think modern authors are more aware of theimbalance now and are trying to address it?
I think it is something that authors are thinking about but things are slow to change. You see it in film and TV as well. If boys always have the starring roles – both as heroes and villains – and girls are always the sidekicks, it sends a message about how society sees you. That that’s how the world is and how it should be. It’s very hard to feel equal then. Ruby was partially inspired by the strong characters I saw on TV and in movies when I was a child – often played by Jodie Foster and Tatum O’Neal. They weren’t defined by their girlieness, they were convincing characters, smart, savvy and fearless, who just happened to be girls. You could quite easily change Ruby’s name to a boy’s name and just change a few details in the book and it would work just the same. Jo in Little Women, Pippi Longstocking and Matilda are all incredibly modern characters. They stand up to adversity and fight back.
Q) Final thoughts – do you have any advice on a good place to start for children, or adults, who dream of being writers or illustrators one day?
My advice would be to write about something you enjoy and that really interests you. It might be something funny that you see out of the window, or something that you’ve imagined, or about your family and friends. When I was young, a friend and I wrote and created comic books. That was fun. It is really important that you enjoy what you’re writing or you won’t be able to sustain it.
I am often asked where my ideas come from. The answer is everywhere: From watching people in a café or on the bus, looking out of my window, or from books, films and memories. It may be from little things I notice when I visit people’s houses or things I overhear when standing in the supermarket queue. It can be things people tell me, funny things, strange things, or touching things or things that are totally imagined, things that just float through my mind. Try and come up withyour own unique style and voice, and just keep trying.
Hurbet Horatio: How To Raise Your Grown-ups by Lauren Child is out now. Published by Harper Collins Children’s Books. HB £12.99.
Staring into Space is a brilliant collection of resources by Lauren Child and Josey Scullard, inspired by some of their favourite children’s books, which can be used at home or in school. Find at staringintospace.me
*The role of Children’s Laureate is awarded once every two years to an eminent writer or illustrator of children’s books tocelebrate outstanding achievement in their field.