New Children’s Laureate will ‘knock on the door of Number 10’ to promote reading

Acclaimed author Frank Cottrell-Boyce has said he will “knock on the door of Number 10” to promote reading among young people, after he was named Waterstone’s Children’s Laureate.

Cottrell-Boyce, 64, will take over from Joseph Coelho in the role from 2024 to 2026.

The honour is given to a writer with “exceptional talent”, with the aim of promoting the importance of children’s literature and reading.

The Bootle-born children’s writer achieved fame when he wrote the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and was entrusted by the Ian Fleming estate to write three sequels to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

During his career, he has also written a number of film and television scripts including Millions, 24 Hour Party People, and Coronation Street.

Cottrell-Boyce peering over a wall
Cottrell-Boyce will aim to open up reading to more children during his laureateship (Waterstones Children’s Laureate/PA)

Speaking to the PA news agency, Cottrell-Boyce said he wants to use his time in the role to give more children access to literature, and said he wants to speak directly to the prime minister about the issues preventing young people from reading at an early age.

He said: “Other laureates have visited lots of libraries and lots of schools, but I want to be knocking on the door of Number 10, and saying it’s about time we did something about this nationally.

“I’ve done lots of exciting things, this is the most challenging I think.

“When someone asks you to put together an Olympic opening ceremony, it is quite scary, but what I feel I’m being asked here is, can I turn the dial on children’s lives in this country in two years?

“I think we can do that, it’s a moment of change, and it’s not the biggest ask in the world, we’re not asking for a new space programme or anything like that.

“We’re asking to share the way that we do this to make sure that all children get what a lot of children already get.”

Cottrell-Boyce will be part of a team which will host a summit called Reading Rights: Books Build A Brighter Future, which will bring together expert voices to discuss how to improve children’s access to literature.

He said it is “fantastically exciting and intimidating” to take on the “thrilling” laureateship.

But, in his speech accepting the role, the author said Britain is “a stranger to equality”, with more than 4.3 million children growing up in poverty in the country, which he said is creating a barrier to books, and added that “children who read regularly are more likely to overcome disadvantage”.

Cottrell-Boyce told PA: “We know that if children encounter books when they’re very young, they’re given an enormous advantage, both educationally and emotionally, especially in terms of being happy.

“I want to highlight what the best way to do that is, I’m going to be talking to not just teachers but health visitors and young carers, and people who are involved with the youngest people, and bringing that advantage to them as early as possible.”

He went on to say that Britain was to children’s stories “what Brazil is to football”, and told PA he wants to “bring attention to the incredible stories we have available to us”.

Cottrell-Boyce said: “We have a huge treasure chest of amazing books in this country, brilliant books are being written now.

“But if you think back, there’s Harry Potter, Winnie the Pooh, Mary Poppins, these are just the Ps and they are figures that straddled the world.”

The writer said reading gives children the opportunity to “build the apparatus of happiness within themselves”, and said Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came To Tea had that impact on him at a young age.

The Framed author added: “It’s not even the whole book, it’s just a page when the tiger has been and gone and eaten all the food, and dad comes home and takes the little girl and her mum to dinner.

“It’s just ordinary streets with streetlights, but I remember looking at that page and and thinking ‘Oh god, it’s so exciting going out late at night with your mum and dad’.

“The fact someone would recognise that in a book really stayed with me, and when I was a grown-up, I really knew the power of that.”

The Children’s Laureate began in 1999, with Quentin Blake, best known for his Roald Dahl illustrations, the first to take on the laureateship.

Since then there have been 13 laureates, including Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen, and Julia Donaldson.