Joseph Cuelho is taking over as children’s laureate from the author Cressida Cowell. Meanwhile, latest figures show that one in four ten-year-olds did not meet the expected standard in reading or writing last year, and the Times Education Commission report pointed out recently that around nine million working-age adults in England have low levels of basic literacy or numeracy. We have written before that far too many children find writing a chore and never read for pleasure. Unless we turn that around – helping every child to discover the joys of reading and giving them the skills to express themselves not just accurately and functionally but also creatively and imaginatively – poor literacy skills will continue to hold millions of people back at every stage of their lives.
Waterstones, who sponsor the children’s laureateship, say that the role “celebrates creativity and storytelling, promotes the vital importance of reading and children’s literature, and champions the right of every child to enjoy a lifetime enriched with books and stories. Each laureate brings their own passion and creativity to their tenure.”
Cuelho is an award-winning poet and children’s book author. He grew up in a tower block in Putney, the son of a single parent. Speaking this week, Cuelho identified three priorities for his laureateship: promoting poetry, highlighting new writing talent and championing local libraries. His priorities overlap with those of Life-Based Learning.
He is committed to making the reading and writing of poetry accessible to all. In 2018 he created resources for key stage 1 and key stage 2 students on understanding poetry, including a series of videos explaining the different formats of poetry, how to perform poetry and how to interpret poetry.
In our blog Poetry is perfect for helping children to appreciate words and language we wrote:
As a wonderful vehicle for creativity and for learning to work with language, poetry is perfect for children — playing about with words and phrases, experimenting with rhymes, learning the basics of rhythm and metre. That’s why it is so important that children have regular opportunities to experience poetry.from our blog Poetry is perfect for helping children to appreciate words and language
Cuelho also wants, he says, “to diversify bookshelves so that every child can imagine themselves as writers, illustrators and poets.” We have written about the need to instil in young people a love of writing: and to see it as empowering – a way to articulate ideas, express emotions or create whole worlds of the imagination.
And he has also promised to be a champion of local libraries. A recent report carried out by the National Literacy Trust on behalf of Libraries Connected (which represents the public library services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) stated that libraries were key to closing the post-pandemic literacy gap:
Libraries are uniquely placed to help narrow this gap, the report concludes, by giving free access to books, fostering a strong home learning environment and inspiring children to be readers. Libraries are also expert at reaching disadvantaged communities where literacy is lowest and can support the social elements of literacy through reading clubs, holiday activities and early years ‘rhyme times’.
And yet, year after year, libraries are at the sharp end of cuts to public services.
We have repeatedly highlighted the need for an ambitious, imaginative and generously funded approach to school library provision to ensure that reading for enjoyment can be a reality for all children and not just for the privileged few.
Despite overwhelming evidence of the benefits of good library access — more reading for enjoyment, better attitudes to learning, higher attainment — school library provision is extremely uneven across the country, with schools in areas of highest deprivation having the worst provision.
And, incredibly, it is still not a legal requirement for every school to have a library.