Julia Donaldson | "Each children's laureate has done different things and I don't want those things to die"

Julia Donaldson | "Each children's laureate has done different things and I don't want those things to die"

Julia Donaldson, who was announced as the new children's laureate at a ceremony earlier this week, relishes the opportunities that the role will give her to support issues that are close to her heart.

In particular, she says she will use her term as laureate to highlight children's singing, drama and performance, and to fight for libraries.

While she may be better known for writing picture books and especially as the author of The Gruffalo, Donaldson says: "I have also written teen fiction and books for eight to 10-year-olds and lots of plays, and I still maybe think of myself as a song writer. (Donaldson worked as a singer/songwriter for children's television before hitting the publishing big time). The previous children's laureate Anthony Browne is a picture book writer and illustrator and he shone a light on that area, and I don't want to have that as my banner."

She is, however, keen to incorporate picture books in her message of performance. "One thing I love about picture books is that they are short and you can tell it in a session and perhaps act it as well," she explains. "Whenever I do author visits I get children to act out picture books."

Performing can help build a child's confidence and speaking skills, she says. "Getting children to write their own plays based on traditional stories like ‘Little Red Riding Hood' is so much fun. It's a wonderful way to get children to read and perform, and also to write and sing songs."

On tour

Donaldson is already contemplating how she can actively incorporate performance into her term as laureate and says: "I'm thinking about doing a libraries tour and getting schools that take part to prepare something that the children can perform to me, like a class poem or story. That will be my focus. All the children's laureates have brought their strengths to the job, Anthony Browne's has been getting people to draw, Michael Morpurgo emphasised storytelling. I see myself with a drama and music background so books and story in performance will be my ‘big thing'." She is also looking to get more involved in stories, and signed stories, for deaf children.

She also feels strongly about independent bookshops and libraries, and her appointment comes at a time when they have never been more threatened. "Libraries are close to my heart, especially for children. That's where children discover their taste in books, and librarians have the expertise that children won't necessarily get from their teachers," Donaldson says.

She adds: "They are also such great community centres and with the high street in decline, libraries are often the last bastion of a small community. If you sell a library building, in reality you're not going to get one back even in boom times. I'm very aware of what happened to libraries even during the comparatively good years. Libraries have had their budgets tightened and tightened and you can't squeeze them any tighter."

Donaldson sees her new role very much as a spokesperson for the children's world, and one who is unfettered by loyalties. "I'm not employed by anyone like a local authority and so I'm not gagged. Librarians are employed by local authorities and they are not allowed to speak up so I can do that instead. But at the same time I don't have that many axes to grind, I'm sensible and I'm not planning to talk about things I don't know very much about."

British focus

She is also "really pleased" to be the first children's laureate to be based in Scotland. "This is the British children's laureate and we are expected to do at least one big event in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I'm very used to travelling; people always seem to think that if you live in Scotland it's somehow easier and quicker for you to get to London than for them to get to Scotland."

The long train journeys may even help her to keep her writing going during her term as laureate, she says. "The train can be a wonderful haven from email and phone calls, several of my rhyming couplets have emerged from journeys I've made." While she is unlikely to write a novel, she says: "I would like to do at least a couple of picture book texts in each of the two years ahead." Her forthcoming books include a poetry anthology for children which will be published by Macmillan in 2012, and a sequel to The Owl and the Pussycat (Puffin) that will be illustrated by Charlotte Voake.

Donaldson adds: "I think the children's laureate role has done something for children's books although not perhaps one thing in particular. Anne Fine's My Home Library initiative and Michael Rosen's poetry website for children to perform poems still exist.

"Each children's laureate has done different things and I don't want those things to die so I'll be looking at ways to bring attention to the contributions of all the former laureates."