Wednesday 13 June 2007

Children's Poet Laureate... Why don't we have one?

Michael Rosen, shown here, has just been appointed the Children's Laureate for the U.K., taking over from Jacqueline Wilson. The BBC reports:

The author and poet is best known for books like We're Going On A Bear Hunt and Don't Put Mustard In The Custard.
He will hold the position of Children's Laureate for two years and wins a £10,000 bursary.
Rosen was chosen by peers in the world of children's literature, and takes over from Jacqueline Wilson.
The 61-year-old said: "I see my job as Children's Laureate being an ambassador for fun with books.
"I hope that I'll be able to boost all children's reading for pleasure but also to give a special lift to the wonderful diverse world of poetry for children," he added.
(Full story here.)

Last year the Poetry Foundation appointed Jack Prelutsky to a similar position in the U.S. Here is a press release from their website:

The Poetry Foundation inaugurated Jack Prelutsky as the nation’s first “Children’s Poet Laureate” on September 27 at the Pegasus Awards ceremony in Chicago. The award is given to a living poet for a career devoted to the writing of some of the best poetry for the young. The award is also intended to raise awareness among poetry readers and the public that children are naturally receptive to poetry when written especially for them, and that this often is the beginning of a lifelong love of poetry.
(Read the full release here.)

Now, I know Canada often lags behind the trend in these matters. After all, the U.S. only got a children's laureate last year. And let's not forget, it took us an awful long time just to get around to appointing a regular poet laureate, mere centuries behind the pioneers in the field. But I believe a children's poet laureate would be an asset for Canada. We could use such an advocate in this country for children's education and literacy. An ambassador for both the arts and for children, who can address the public, advise the government, and entertain and educate our young people. For a country where a large percentage of the population was raised on Alligator Pie and Garbage Delight I know this goes without saying, but I would like to nominate Dennis Lee for the honour. I don't think many, if any, would disagree. He has been the unofficial children's laureate for long enough. I think it's time we, as a nation, made it official.

So what do we do now? Well we lobby. We can write to our MPs. I will be doing this today. And it couldn't hurt to mention this idea to the current Parliamentary Poet Laureate John Steffler. Perhaps he can mention it to the Parliamentary Librarian, who in turn could mention it to....

UPDATE: I have written to my MP (Peggy Nash) and to the PPL (John Steffler) about this. Let's see if anything happens.


Robert Earl Stewart said...

Great idea, Paul. I will be writing my MP, Joe Comartin (NDP), later today. I also have some close ties (through the newspaper) with various MPs, flaks, parliamentary aids and caucus members, riding chairs, etc., all of whom owe me various favours for not turning my newspaper into a scandal sheet with their sundry mini-scandals and incompetencies.

Dennis Lee is definitely the choice.

Anonymous said...

I'd hate to see Dennis Lee precluded from consideration for the Parliamentary Poet Laureate, though, and wonder if the feeling might be, Once a children's writer, always...etc. He is a remarkable poet for all ages but of late it seems that his adult work hasn't had the attention it richly deserves.

Paul Vermeersch said...

theresa k.,

I share your concern, and I do feel that Dennis deserves to be honoured with the PPL position. He has already been poet laureate of Toronto, and among living poets in Canada, there is no one else I would nominate before him for the national honour.

And still, if a Children's laureate were to be created, I simply cannot imaging the first Canadian CPPL (if you will) being anyone but Dennis Lee.

As for his adult work. I still think it's a horrible shame that Un was not nominated for either the GG or Griffin. I hope that Yesno gets the credit it deserves. He is truly an artist who extends the territory.

Anonymous said...

Oh,agreed, Paul. So go, boy!

Paul Vermeersch said...


I still haven't heard from Steffler or Nash on this matter.