Monday musings on Australian literature: Australia’s first Children’s Laureates

Australian Children's Laureate logo

Logo Courtesy: Australian Children's Laureate

It has been so busy here at Monday Musings that I am late with this announcement … but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth making! On December 6th, 2011, the idea of an Australian Children’s Laureate was inaugurated with the appointment of not one, but two, children’s authors to the role. They are

Alison Lester and Boori Monty Pryor

and they will be our laureates for two years, 2012-2013. I understand that the idea of a Children’s Laureate was instigated in the United Kingdom in 1999. In 2008, the Library of Congress inaugurated a similar role, but called theirs National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. What’s in a name, eh? The main point is that these initiatives promote reading among children. The Australian program is organised by the Australian Children’s Literature Alliance and on their Laureate website they describe the laureate’s role as follows:

The Children’s Laureate will be an Australian author and/or illustrator of children’s and/or youth literature who is making a significant contribution to the children’s literature canon of this country. The Laureate will be appointed on a biennial basis and will promote the transformational power of reading, creativity and story in the lives of young Australians, while acting as a national and international ambassador for Australian children’s literature.

So, a little about Australia’s inaugural laureates …

Alison Lester (b. 1952)

I became aware of writer-illustrator Lester through my own children when, like most parents who are readers, I sought out good books to read aloud to them. Lester is an author/illustrator best known for her picture books, though she has also written a couple of young adult novels. My favourites were two of her picture books, Imagine (1988) and Rosie sips spiders (1989), and the “chapter” book (as new readers like to call them) Thingnapped, written by Robin Klein and illustrated by Lester. She has a lovely sense of fun while also conveying important values to children (such as respecting difference, a critical value at a time when rejecting other seems to be on the rise again.)

Boori Monty Pryor (b. 1950)

I did not know of Boori Monty Pryor – writer, artist, performer, storyteller – when my children were growing up. In fact, I only heard of him a couple of years ago when a friend lent me his memoir Maybe tomorrow which I reviewed in the early days of this blog. I came across him again last year when he was on the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards panel I attended. He impressed me – in both “meetings” – with his strength, his humour, and his ability and willingness to overcome his anger at the way his people have been treated. He’s an indigenous Australian, and he’s committed to forging good relationships among all Australians while at the same time shoring up traditional culture and values among indigenous people. No easy task, but his appointment to the laureate role is testament to his achievements.

To conclude, I must note that our inaugural laureates are a woman and an indigenous Australian. I’m sure there are many worthy white male contenders out there, but I believe that Lester and Pryor were not token appointments. They are worthy recipients who have proven track records in the quality and significance of their contributions to encouraging reading, story-telling and self-expression among Australian children.

14 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Australia’s first Children’s Laureates

  1. I hadn’t noticed your final observation! What does that mean I wonder? I haven’t read any of Boori’s books but ‘Imagine’ was an all-time favourite at home here. I can still the drawings very clearly and remember each child of mine picking at the details, begging for a reread. Lovely work.

    • Thanks Catherine … her images are very distinctive aren’t they? I was nearly going to make a comment about that. Somehow they nicely blend the old-fashioned with the modern. As for my final observation … I’ll leave that hanging for a while! I think John Marsden could be a worthy recipient, also perhaps Nadia Wheatley – but I’m not up on what other Aussie kids’ lit writers/illustrators do in terms of contribution beyond their actual writing/illustrating.

  2. Delighted to hear about Alison Lester. She was born (and still lives?) in an area I know very well — it’s about 30km down the road from where I grew up and went to school.

  3. Ah yes, I heard that too Judith but hadn’t taken in it was Lester speaking — I was not fully concentrating BUT the 46% brought me up short too. I guess it’s the definition of literacy as being able to read etc to a level that enables you to properly managed your life. Scary though isn’t it? Let’s hope these Children’s Laureates can help but, on their own, they can really only be drops in the bucket can’t they?

  4. Alison Lester’s Magic Beach is a wonderful book. The language and the illustrations are so rich and it is a very Australian story, without needing to mention any cliches or native flora or fauna. I like it more than Imagine.

    It’s interesting that you feel the need to justify (?) or criticise (?) the fact that these laureates are a female and an indigenous Australian. Given that Australian males’ educational outcomes are inferior to that of Australian females and that Australian males read far less and buy far fewer books than Australian females, do you think that 2 male appointees might have had more impact on doing something to improve the woeful state of male literacy?

    • Oh no, Melinda, I mustn’t have made myself clear. I didn’t feel the need to justify (and certainly not to criticise) the fact that the first are a woman and an indigenous Australian. I’m thrilled. My meaning was in fact to ward off any suggestion that they might be token appointments and argue that they are highly worthy of their appointments. But, you make an excellent point … maybe the next one should be a token male! (No, just joking, a worthy male of whom I know there are many. We are rich in great and committed children’s writers aren’t we?)

      And thanks for your comment re Magic Beach. I think I know that one … but will try to look at it again to remind myself.

  5. Love, love, loved the mental effort of reading Rosie Sips Spiders and trying to work out who was the missing person on each page! Like finding the clue to the next fairytale characters in Each Peach Pear Plum 🙂

  6. Great idea. Love the logo. I must say the Library of Congress is not doing a very good job of advertising their Young People’s Ambassador. I had no idea they had one! I’m hoping I haven’t heard of it because they are focused on schools and since I have no children or any conenction to grade schools I am just out of the loop. I hope your children’s laureates do you proud and set a high standard for all who follow.

    • It’s a gorgeous logo isn’t it, Stefanie. Our Australian magpie has such a pretty song it seems appropriate to feature it.Oh dear, re LOC, but hopefully, as you say, teachers and children’s librarians know about this role. If they don’t that’s a bit of a worry isn’t it? Ours have been getting a bit of media airplay and I hope that continues throughout the two years as they move around the country.

  7. Somehow I missed this post (who knows what Google reader is up to most days?). I was aware of the announcement though. It’s a great idea. And I hope it will be successful. Great to hear the interview too. The 46% claim is very disturbing.

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