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Should celebrities be signed up for children's books?

6 February 2017

It's been a lively week on the children's publishing and reading front, with an attack on the "joyless education" which is putting children off reading, an intervention from the Children's Laureate demonstrating that drawing and illustrating help children's literacy and authors complaining about celebrity signings for children's books.

Children's and YA publishing can involve using celebrity names to attract book-buyers. Comedians, because they are good at publicising their books, and YouTubers, who have a huge ready-made audience, are obviously attractive. YA writer C J Daugherty said that genuine authorship is often still unclear. "We can tell ourselves that readers must know a C-List celebrity, famous for opening make-up boxes on YouTube, isn't capable of writing an 80,000-word novel. But the whole system seems designed to fool people into thinking they are.

"I have seen celebrities who I am very confident did not write the novels that have their names on the cover, talking in interviews about how thrilled they are to have written their first book. I have seen them answer questions about their writing process. If we give up on the system of taking début writers and gradually turning them into reliable bestsellers, and instead throw six-figure advances at C-List celebrities, it looks like a bad exchange."

Amanda Punter, publisher at Penguin Random House Children's, defended using YouTube stars:

"In terms of the industry publishing household names, it is always exciting that talented writers and creators who might be known for their skill in reaching older audiences are keen to turn their hand to writing for children... With regards to social media talent, as this is a relatively new phenomenon, there is of course an increase in publishing of on both adult and children's lists. It important for publishers to be in touch with their readers' interests and passions, and there is evidence to suggest that social media personalities are able to reach areas of the market who don't commonly buy a lot of books."


The bestselling Bravo Two Zero author Andy McNab, who didn't learn to read until he was 16, says his experience working in schools shows that a box-ticking approach to tuition inhibits the reading skills of the less privileged. He said children in failing schools were hit by a double whammy because teachers had no time to encourage the enjoyment of reading because their time was taken up with "box-ticking" and dealing with students' basic needs.

It is particularly important that these children have parents who read, which is why over the years there has been an emphasis on getting adults reading through the Quick Reads programme.

Creative writing through drawing

UK Children's Laureate Chris Riddell has welcomed a report by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education showing that drawing and appreciating picture books are important aids to children's literacy. The project, run over three years and with 200 teachers working alongside 10 authors/illustrators and the CLPE teaching team, has shown that using drawing as part of teaching has made a big difference to children who have difficulty with writing.

Ann Gelder, a year 1 teacher and KS1 English co-ordinator, said: "Drawing the characters opened a door to getting to know them deeply and enabled the children to write with ease... from the characters' viewpoint. The link between picture and spoken word, followed by written word, is core."