Chris Riddell, creator of the bestselling Goth Girl series, double CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal winner and political cartoonist, has today (Tuesday 9 June) been appointed the ninth Waterstones Children’s Laureate at a ceremony at BAFTA in London’s Piccadilly. Riddell, 53, launched his laureateship by championing creativity in schools and beyond, and asking families to come together and unleash their imaginations by “drawing every day.” Recognising the legacy of the role he is inheriting, he said: “I couldn’t be more proud to accept this vital role, on which successive Laureates have stamped their identities in their own distinctive ways. During my term, I want to use the immediacy and universality of illustration to bring people together and lead them all into the wonderful world of books and reading.”
Accepting the Children’s Laureate Medal from outgoing Laureate Malorie Blackman, Riddell revealed plans to put visual literacy at the heart of his term of office, which runs until 2017. He will use his Laureate’s Log – an online visual diary of his time in the role – to entertain and inform those who follow his progress, and encourage families to keep their own visual diaries. He will celebrate and defend school libraries and librarians who, together with parents, match children with books that will inspire and help them grow into great readers and thinkers. He intends to emphasise the excitement of illustration at live events, both alone and with unexpected collaborators from across the arts. Riddell said: “I’m interested in illustration in all its forms, not only in books for children but in posters, prints and performance, as a way of drawing people into books and stories. I want to continue to explore interesting ways to bring words and pictures together over the next two years.”
Calling for more time and space to be allocated to reading in schools, he added: “It’s surely bizarre that it is not a requirement for the very places where children will learn how to read, draw, think and create to have a space for books. I want to help and encourage every school to do more for readers: if they have nowhere to read, create a space with a few books; if they have a bookshelf, have two; if they have a reading room, aim for a library!”
The role of Children’s Laureate is awarded once every two years to an eminent author or illustrator of children’s books to celebrate outstanding achievement in their field and to acknowledge their importance in creating the readers of tomorrow. Riddell, a two-time winner of the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration in children’s books, is the ninth recipient of the honour and very aware of the prestige and importance of the role. He talked of the enduring influence his predecessors have had on him, describing them as Children’s Laureate Super Heroes and presenting original illustrations of ‘The Fantastic 8’ including Quentin Blake as ‘The Big Friendly Genius’, Jacqueline Wilson as ‘The Silver Signer’ and Blackman herself as ‘Nought and Crosser’ (referencing her Noughts and Crosses series of novels). Riddell ended his speech by donning a ‘Zorro’-style mask and revealing himself as the masked champion of artistic ambition, ‘The Doodler.’
He said: “I am humbled to take on this role after the giants that have come before me. I want to put the joy of creativity, of drawing every day, of having a go and being surprised at what one can achieve with just a pencil and an idea at the heart of my term as Laureate. I want to make sure people have fun whilst addressing fundamental issues I care about passionately.”
Riddell was presented with the specially commissioned solid silver Children’s Laureate medal and a £15,000 bursary cheque by Abigail Campbell, Chair of the Children’s Laureate Steering Group. She said: “Chris is a creative powerhouse and clearly excited at his new position’s potential: he will be listened to not just by the young people he meets, but by opinion-formers and policy-makers at the highest level. He will inspire children and families in the work he does over the next two years. The panel cannot wait to see children’s books’ new super hero in action.”
Waterstones Managing Director James Daunt said: “The Laureate performs an important role in bringing issues of literacy to public attention, and each does it in their own inimitable style. We at Waterstones could not be happier at Chris’s appointment: he is a firm favourite of our booksellers and of by far our most important customers – the young readers of the United Kingdom. We will be very proud to support him over the next two years.”
Waterstones is the lead sponsor of the Children’s Laureate post, with other sponsorship and funding coming from children’s publishers and Arts Council England. Independent literature charity Book Trust continues to manage the award.