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Joseph Coelho – Children’s Laureate 2022–2024

The Two Latest Books By Joseph Coelho, Children’s Laureate
Joseph Coelho, Children’s Laureate 2022–204
Photo: The British Library, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In July 2022, prize-winning poet Joseph Coelho took over from Dame Cressida Cowell to become the new Waterstones Children’s Laureate. He is a poet, playwright, performer and prize winner, and his website is here.

How does the role of Children’s Laureate differ to that of Poet Laureate?

The idea of appointing a Children’s Laureate was initiated by Ted Hughes and Michael Morpurgo. Ted Hughes was poet laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998. Both he and Morpurgo, his friend and near-neighbour in North Devon, felt strongly that the idea of championing children’s literature in a similar way was important for the genre.

However, the role of Children’s Laureate was always intended to be different from that of Poet Laureate. It was to be held for two years rather than for life (although since the death of Hughes, the Poet Laureate’s term is ten years). The Waterstone’s Children’s Laureate is nominated by librarians and booksellers, and appointed by a panel of judges. The Poet Laureate is appointed by the government.

The Poet Laureate must produce poems for important government and royal occasions. The Children’s Laureate’s role is to enhance the profile of children’s books and to enthusiastically encourage children and books to get together. The holder of the post is sometimes an author, sometimes an illustrator.

Some facts about Children’s Laureates

  • All the Children’s Laureates have been highly regarded writers and illustrators with a strong list of titles in print
  • The holders to date are equal numbers of men and women
  • Other countries to have children’s laureates or similar are Wales, Australia, USA, Ireland, Sweden and The Netherlands
  • The first Children’s Laureate was Quentin Blake in 1999
  • Michael Morpurgo himself was the third Children’s Laureate
  • Because of the pandemic, Cressida Cowell’s tenure was extended by a further 12 months
  • When Michael Rosen was the laureate 2007–2009, he set up the highly popular Perform-a-Poem website. It closed down in 2019 and the last poet featured on it was Joseph Coelho
  • Joseph Coelho is the 12th Children’s Laureate

Joseph Coelho’s aims as Children’s Laureate

It’s going to be a very busy time for him. In the two years of the post, the Children’s Laureate is expected to be present at many literary functions and children’s events. They give talks, readings and signings, but also they promote children’s literature in general. Joseph Coelho has set himself three aims for his period as Children’s Laureate:

Poetry Prompts

Joseph Coelho has declared that he aims to get the whole country writing poetry, to ‘make us all poets’.

First and foremost, poetry is about translating the soul; it’s about emotions and feelings; it’s about encapsulating a moment in time.

He says poetry should be accessible, in a style and language that isn’t off-putting to many readers. He also says that children should be able to recognise and explore the poet in themselves. His mission is to reverse the “damage” done to young people by teaching them that poetry must follow “formal rules”. Children who make their poems rhyme should be penalised! (However, I do notice that Coelho frequently uses formal structure and rhyme himself!)

Bookmaker Like You

In this project Coelho wants to help children to understand what it is to create a book, whether as author, illustrator, editor, designer, or any of the people who work on a book to bring it to light. Children, too, he says, can become bookmakers.

Library Marathon

He intends to raise the profile of libraries and encourage more children to use them. He aims to have joined a library in every library authority in the country before his tenure finishes. Before the pandemic he had joined 140 – he has 70 to go.

Joseph Coelho the writer

In the next busy two years, Coelho won’t find much time for writing!

Rest assured, his new book, a YA novel in poems, The Boy Lost in the Maze, will be published in October 2022. It’s a very ambitious and gripping series of poems mingling together the ancient story of the Minotaur and that of a contemporary boy, Theo, who is searching for his natural father.

HARDBACK

Published by: Otter-Barry Books, 2022. Available from Amazon.

This website contains affiliate links. If you buy items using these links, I receive a commission, at no extra cost to you.

Joseph Coelho has always been a writer, although at university he studied archaeology.

I wrote poems about how I was feeling, poems about life at school, angry poems, sad poems, funny poems and sometimes I’d nervously share those poems in my drama class. Then in 2012 I met Janetta Otter-Barry at the London Book Fair and showed her some of my poems. She agreed to publish them and my very first poetry collection Werewolf Club Rules was published and I’ve been steadily writing and performing ever since.

Coelho’s work is hugely varied, from the popular Luna Loves and Fairy Tales Gone Bad picture books to the complex and often demanding poetry of Overheard in a Tower Block.

My favourite of all his work so far, however, is The Girl Who Became a Tree, which was shortlisted for the 2021 Carnegie Medal. The medal was awarded that year to Jason Reynolds for Look Both Ways.

My thoughts on ‘The Girl Who Became a Tree’

The Girl Who Became a Tree is a ‘story told in poems’. In a series of short chapter-poems Coelho tells the story of Daphne, a 14 year old girl coping with the death of her father. Each chapter-poem has a shape of its own: free verse or structured, sometimes rhyming, playful, poignant, and often challenging.

HARDBACK
PAPERBACK

Published by: Otter-Barry Books, 2020. Available from Amazon.

This website contains affiliate links. If you buy items using these links, I receive a commission, at no extra cost to you.

Daphne’s refuge is the library, surrounded by the wooden shelves that come from forests, and ‘the rustling pages could be mistaken for leaves’. But she isn’t reading. She stares endlessly at her phone, where her father’s final message is enshrined. But when she loses her phone Daphne is distraught. The librarian helps her by showing her a trail that leads her to a hole in a russet bookcase, and when she struggles through, she finds herself in a forest.

Here she grieves and grows, she becomes a towering tree, and she faces the Monster.

This is one of the most imaginatively written, appealing and astonishing books I have read this year, in a year of wonderful children’s books. It is also one of the most attractive, with equally imaginative, appealing and astonishing illustrations by author/illustrator Kate Milner.

Joseph Coelho – an excellent choice for Children’s Laureate

Joseph Coelho is an excellent choice for the role of Children’s Laureate. He is passionate about books, writing, poetry, libraries and children, and he conveys his passion in all his writing and performances. What more could we ask for? I send him my congratulations and good wishes.

Over to you

Have you read any of Joseph Coehlo’s books? Please share your recommendations in the comments box below.

Berlie Doherty

Berlie Doherty is the author of the best-selling novel, Street Child, and over 60 more books for children, teenagers and adults, and has written many plays for radio, theatre and television. She has been translated into over twenty languages and has won many awards, including the Carnegie medal for both Granny Was a Buffer Girl and Dear Nobody, and the Writers’ Guild Award for both Daughter of the Sea and the theatre version of Dear Nobody. She has three children and seven grandchildren, and lives in the Derbyshire Peak District with Alan James Brown. Her brand new novel for adults, Rose Doran Dreams, is out now. Her forthcoming novel The Haunted Hills will be published later in 2022. See the About me page for more information.

This post has 2 comments

  1. Zombierella and Frankenstiltskin are glorious reimaginings of classic fairy stories – with a really dark twist. They work very well with KS2 classes and lend themselves to children writing their own versions. I’m very much looking forward to Creeping Beauty later this year.
    Joseph also has a short story called ‘Amelia Jones and the Long Armed Killer’ in the Happy Here anthology. It’s a great murder mystery that hooked my Year 3s in and kept them guessing. We were lucky enough to work with Joseph as part of the CLPE Reflecting Realities project, and he had so many wonderful ideas to engage children in the writing process. They all wrote their own short stories and enjoyed adding in red herrings.

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