As the current Australian Children’s Laureate, Ursula Dubosarsky believes wholeheartedly that reading enriches and empowers your life. This is the reason that she chose ‘Read for your life’ as the theme for her two-year laureate term. Her greatest ambition is to encourage all kids to read for their whole life, so they are always proud to say, ‘I am a reader.’
Ursula became the Australian Children’s Laureate on 11 February 2020, just before the first COVID-19 lockdown hit the nation. So rather than travelling across Australia to promote the joy of books and reading, she quickly became a ‘digital laureate’. She embraced the change with gusto, learning new computer skills and supporting innovations such as public librarians delivering story-time sessions online. The COVID-19 disruption actually had a silver lining – Ursula was able to reach a larger number of people online than she would have done during a traditional laureate tour of the country.
As a practical person, Ursula decided to promote the idea of every child – from babies to teenagers – joining their local public library. This offers many advantages: you can borrow books for free, you have access to a wide range of books, and the library and reading soon become part of your identity. To encourage more kids to join the library, she came up with the idea for library-card skins with appealing designs. These create cards that kids love to pull out and use.
When asked what she thought was the greatest barrier to getting children to read, she noted that there is an astonishing array of things to do these days, so children don’t make time to read. We have all embraced the digital age with wonder, but this has led to all of us reading less. How do we combat this slide in reading, especially for kids? The answer is simple: make reading central to children’s lives through regular access to books. Children don’t read books on digital devices, so they need to be offered the chance to browse through a variety of real books. Ensure that the library is part of everyday life, so kids learn that books are part of everyday life.
Reading should not be associated with guilt, the pressure of failure, tension and anxiety; it should be a passion and a pleasure. A diversity of literary forms is important (such as wordless picture books, graphic novels and non-fiction volumes). Let kids find their own things to read, even if you think the books are too easy or too hard for them. Exploration and discovery are the keys to arousing a new-found love of books.
Ursula writes about the things that are most meaningful to her, and she hopes that her books are meaningful to others. As a passionate advocate of reading, her book The March of the Ants is a fable that shows kids why reading is great. Having the message in story form is more memorable to her audience than simply telling them that reading is great. In addition, she realises that we have a more visual and less literary culture now, so she has created illustrated novels without intimidating chunks of text for the modern child reader.
Towards the end of her talk, Ursula returned to her favourite subject: the wonder of libraries. They are important sources of imaginative books and non-curriculum books. When she visits a library, Ursula has the sense that it belongs to her – she hopes that kids also have this instinct, and will feel comfortable being themselves there. We should allow the library to be a place of freedom.
Report by CKT Author, Dannielle Viera