I am about to embark on what will be one of the highlights of my time as Children’s Laureate, the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour. I will climb aboard a bus stacked full of books and embark on a magical mystery tour with Beth and Tom from Scottish Book Trust.
They will be my Boswells, guiding this not very convincing Dr Johnson on a special literary journey. I’m looking forward to it immensely because this isn’t my first time. A few years ago, I toured the Highlands with Chris and Jasmine from Scottish Book Trust. We travelled from Inverness via Fort William and Skye to Ullapool and back down to Edinburgh.
By the time we reached the Capital, I had spoken to hundreds of children in theatres, halls and school libraries, enjoyed great conservations and beautiful scenery and made two firm friends. But the best part of the trip was visiting those school libraries.
Librarians have played a special role in my literary life, especially school librarians. They were the ones who knew exactly the sort of books I would like just by looking at me. They ran short story competitions and poetry prizes just for the fun of it.
They kept me supplied with stories and never set exams. They were happy if you returned your books on time and asked for more.
Their school libraries were havens of peace and tranquillity in a hectic and often stressful school day.
With their help, I learnt that reading wasn’t a task to be mastered but a pleasure to be enjoyed, and that books read for pleasure could also change how you saw the world.
School librarians introduced me to CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, to Ray Bradbury and Rosemary Sutcliff, Emily Bronte and JD Salinger and I’ll always be grateful to them for that.
Now, as UK Children’s Laureate, I want to repay a small portion of my debt to school librarians. I try to do this by speaking about the importance of school libraries in children’s literary journeys and the role school librarians play in promoting literacy, not as an educational target but as a life-enhancing pleasure.
School libraries and the librarians who look after them are a vital part of any school.
So, when, in the sunshine at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, an esteemed former laureate shows me a letter from pupils at a school that is losing its dedicated librarian, I try not to despair. Instead, I wonder whether local councillors remember their school librarians and the books they were introduced to as a child. If they do, I’d love to hear about their memories.
Then I am going to climb aboard the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour bus and set off to tell as many people possible why school libraries and librarians are so important to all of us.
Writer and illustrator Chris Riddell is the Children’s Laureate. The Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour, organised by Scottish Book Trust, has been running for 18 years. It tours the country’s urban, rural and remote communities and visits each Scottish local authority on a three-year cycle.