Eight Principessas and one Laundrette are off to the International Book Fair and Laureate Summit in Bologna. The Principessas, all major dignitaries of Australian children’s literature, have taken Calvin Trillin’s advice that when travelling it helps to refer to your spouse – or by extension other travelling companions – as the Principessa.
I’m the Laundrette, being given that title by a young interviewer a few weeks ago. I rather like it. There is symbolism there somewhere, but haven’t quite nailed it yet.
Bags packed. They’ll be repacked another three or four times, but they look pretty much ready to go. Many small packages in the freezer, labelled ‘tomato chicken curry’, ‘potato and carrot soup with chives’, ‘lemon chicken’, ‘hot beef cheeks’ and a dozen more, for Bryan’s lunches and dinners, including some extra large portions if he cares for more company than that of the wombats. The wombats have been farewelled, just in case they don’t appear before I leave.
Columns up to date. I hope. Passport and other papers photographed. Notes prepared. Courage lifted from my boots, as this is mildly terrifying. Next week is the International Laureate Summit in Bologna. And it matters.
It is easy to think of kids’ books as fun, entertainment, adventure, laughter. They are all that but more as well. Every children’s book needs to be so good that each child who reads it is compelled to read more, another page, another book. Reading matters, because if you lack that skill in the modern world you are cut off from jobs and even social life, as well as from the entire written heritage of humanity.
Books matter, because each one a child reads creates new neurons, and – we hope – teaches empathy and creativity. If we are going to mine the asteroids, save the planet, create whatever invention will next change the world, we need to harness and stimulate creative genius. Books do that, too.
Books can teach us that courage and determination and hard work can change the world; that when times are bad we can retreat into a book’s pages and emerge comforted. Books can be our friends and can also show us how to find friends and how to be a friend.
The worst crime a kids’ book can perpetrate is to be boring, empty and depressing, because it is young people that we speak to. They deserve more.
The world’s Children’s Laureates meet for the Summit every two years. This year I hope we can discuss and perhaps agree on The Rights of the Child Reader.
THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD READER
Every child has a right to learn to read, with the methods they need to do so.
Every child has a right to access they books they need, for pleasure, for learning empathy and to grow their brains.
Every child has the right to read books in their home language, about their own culture.
Every child has the right to say, ‘This book is boring. May I have another?’
Every child has the right to be given books that are free of racism and hatred.
Every child has the right to access the extraordinary heritage of the written knowledge of humanity.
Every adult has the right to know the children of this planet are being given the tools of literacy and the power of books to change the world and ensure our future.