Author Cressida Cowell has argued that the industry will become "dead in the water" without more support for children's reading, as she reiterated her campaign to make school libraries a statutory requirement.
The Waterstones children’s laureate told around 300 delegates at the Bookseller Children’s Conference at County Hall in London on Monday (23rd September) why children’s engagement with books must be encouraged at every opportunity.
In her endnote speech, ‘Reading is Magic and Magic should be for Everyone’, the How to Train Your Dragon author said: "If you don’t get them reading as children then the industry is dead in the water.” Reading is most important for children in how it promotes intelligence, creativity and empathy, describing reading as “creativity in action”, while films “tell you how things should look and sound”. She spoke of how she is not temped to jump ship for Hollywood: “People say, ‘have you thought of writing for the movies?’ As if that a more superior, a more exciting and more modern thing to do.
People have also said, ‘have you thought of writing for adults?’… I have loved the moves made of my books but I have never wanted to move to Hollywood to work for the movies," she told the conference."I’ve always seen myself as a writer. Writing for children is the most important thing in the world."
Cressida Cowell delivered the final keynote at The Bookseller Children's Conference
She described reading as “formative magic” and described a university experiment analysing the effect of reading Shakespeare on people’s brains. “They attached electrodes to people’s heads to see what happened inside people’s heads and they found out something really fascinating… he uses words in such an interesting way that new neural pathways were being formed in the brain. That is magic… you’re training your child how to be clever than ever.”
However she is concerned that too few children are accessing books, calling it a “social mobility time-bomb”.
“It’s clear the magic isn’t getting to everyone. It’s impossible – and getting more impossible by the minute. And it’s my favourite kind of my problem – because anyone has read any of my books will know I love a quest.
“We need to create a giant and possible to-do list, which is why I’ve created the Cressida Cowell children’s laureate charter [the 10-point plan was revealed in July]. Books should be for everyone.”
She is particularly concerned about how libraries are faring in the face of cuts. "It's a problem - how do we get across that there are people who still need libraries?"
In her role as children’s laureate, Cowell will campaign to ensure that there are libraries in every school in the UK. “I am going to be campaigning about why school libraries should be statutory... because otherwise it will just be a very spotty situation across the country. There are so few libraries left in primary schools in this country. And again, I don't think people realise that. People say 'oh of course, every school has a library.' But that is not the case."
School librarians Jo Clarke and Lucas Maxwell talking at The Bookseller Children's Conference
The disappearance of libraries was discussed elsewhere in the conference including 'Innovative Librarianship in a Time of Economic Cuts' with Lucas Maxwell, Glenthorne High School librarian, who spoke with librarian and book blogger Jo Clarke, of Whitchurch Church of England Primary School. They drew attention to the fact that prisons have a legal requirement to have a library, but schools do not. Clarke revealed that her reviewing enables her to ensure the school library is stocked.
Meanwhile, organisers of the publishing MA at the University of Central Lancashire revealed that they will hold a third Northern YA Literary Festival next year after winning Arts Council funding. Debbie Jane Williams, Waterstones book buyer-turned head of publishing at UCLan, revealed that previously some had questioned a need for a YA festival in Preston - and she urged publishers in the audience to take regional diversity to take seriously. “They said, ‘there is no point because the YA community is all in London’… they have been much more successful than we expected them to be,” she told the conference in the ‘Training the Next Generation of Publishers: What the Industry Needs to Know’ session. “The funding from the Arts Council has just been confirmed a few days ago and we are delighted.” The course will also be launching an audio module in January, believed to be the first of its kind in the country.
Earlier in the day head of books for W H Smith Pete Selby urged the industry to make the high street more inclusive for young readers, saying that diversity is going to become a "significant" part of WHS' strategy.