Children’s Laureate - It’s magic

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New children’s laureate Cressida Cowell has unveiled her ‘to-do list’ while in the role. Meredith Jones Russell reports


The author of the Emily Brown picture books, Cressida Cowell, has been named the new children’s laureate for 2019-21. Ms Cowell, who wrote and illustrated the How to Train Your Dragonand Wizard of Once series, has become the 11th holder of the title of children’s laureate since the title was first awarded in 1999.

At the presentation of the silver laureate medal by outgoing laureate Lauren Child, at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, Ms Cowell unveiled her charter, or ‘to-do list’, advocating the right of every child to:

  • read for the joy of it
  • access new books in schools, libraries and bookshops
  • have advice from a trained librarian or bookseller
  • own their own book
  • see themselves reflected in a book
  • be read aloud to
  • have choice in what they read
  • be creative for at least 15 minutes a week
  • see an author event at least once
  • have a planet to read on.

Ms Cowell also spoke about her desire to make school libraries statutory, and for all public libraries and librarians to be funded properly. She argued for more space to be made on the curriculum to develop children’s creative intelligence, highlighting the value of creativity to the UK economy.

Ms Cowell is an ambassador for the National Literacy Trust, a trustee for World Book Day and a founder patron of the Children’s Media Foundation. She has sold more than 11 million books worldwide in 38 languages and won numerous prizes, including the Blue Peter Book Award and the Ruth Rendell Award for Championing Literacy.

Her five picture books for younger readers, featuring Emily Brown and Stanley the rabbit, are illustrated by Neal Layton. The first book in the series, That Rabbit Belongs To Emily Brown, won the 2006 Nestlé Gold Award, was shortlisted for the BookTrust Early Years Awards and longlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal.

The How to Train Your Dragon series has been made into three feature-length films by Dream Works, two of which have been nominated for Academy Awards. The books have also been adapted for comic books, short films, TV series, video games and an ice show.

The title of children’s laureate is managed by BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity, and sponsored by Waterstones.

Ms Cowell said, ‘Books and reading are magic and this magic must be available to absolutely everyone. I will be a laureate who fights for books and children’s interests with passion, conviction and action. Practical magic, empathy and creative intelligence is the plan.’

Kate Edwards, chair of the children’s laureate 2019-21 judging panel, said, ‘Cressida Cowell’s impressive canon of work, with broad reach and appeal, coupled with her impassioned advocacy for the right of every child to enjoy a childhood rich in storytelling, cemented our choice for the next Waterstones children’s laureate.’


This year marks the 20th anniversary of the role of children’s laureate, created by poet laureate Ted Hughes and author Michael Morpurgo to be awarded once every two years to an eminent children’s author or illustrator who has displayed outstanding achievement in their field.

The role of the children’s laureate is to get children excited about books, reading, writing and drawing. Each laureate focuses on their own particular themes, which in the past have included poetry, storytelling, books for disabled readers and drama.

The ten former children’s laureates are:

  • Quentin Blake (1999–2001)
  • Anne Fine (2001–2003)
  • Michael Morpurgo (2003–2005)
  • Jacqueline Wilson(2005–2007)
  • Michael Rosen (2007–2009)
  • Anthony Browne (2009–2011)
  • Julia Donaldson(2011–2013)
  • Malorie Blackman (2013–2015)
  • Chris Riddell(2015–2017)
  • Lauren Child (2017–2019)

Laureate events

laureateAll ten will take part in a series of special events run by BookTrust to mark the anniversary of the award, and have contributed to a new book, Flights of Fancy, with stories, poems and pictures to encourage children’s creativity.

Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy commented, ‘I’m so glad that for almost 20 years, the children of the UK have grown up alongside the institution that is the “children’s laureate”. An ambassador for reading, they are adventurers digging up and sharing the glittering treasure to be found in books. These authors and illustrators speak to, and for, every child.’

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