Performance poet, playwright and children’s author Joseph Coelho said he wants to “highlight and celebrate the power of poetry” after being announced as the new Children’s Laureate.
Award-winning Coelho, 42, was presented with the Laureate medal by outgoing Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Dame Cressida Cowell, at a ceremony held in London.
His acclaimed works include his Luna Loves… picture books, his dark series of Fairy Tales Gone Bad, which are reimaginings of the classics, and his young adult novel The Girl Who Became A Tree.
His debut poetry collection, Werewolf Club Rules, was published in 2014 and won the CLPE CLiPPA Poetry Award the following year, while his works have included a range of lyrical children’s stories and poetry collections like Overheard In A Tower Block, If All the World Were… and Poems Aloud.
Coelho, whose tenure as Children’s Laureate runs from 2022-2024, said: “Poetry is powerful, it is the medium we turn to at weddings, funerals and new births because it goes beyond mere words – poetry translates the soul. I want to use the prestigious platform of the Waterstones Children’s Laureate to highlight and celebrate the power of poetry.
“To invite the nation, young and old, to write poems, to become poets. I want to ensure that every child has the opportunity to see themselves in books and as bookmakers through the plethora of new and exciting voices we have coming out of the UK – to diversify bookshelves so that every child can imagine themselves as writers, illustrators and poets.
“And, finally I want to hug every library, these miraculous institutions where new horizons line the shelves, where minds go to grow. Libraries made me a writer and make communities thrive – I wish to champion the services of these essential launchpads of learning.”
The author, who grew up in Roehampton, started writing poetry in secondary school and went on to study archaeology at university, with a biography on his website saying: “Basically, I dug up bones in Peru for a couple of years, which was lots of fun but still I wrote poems and started directing and writing plays.”
On being named the Children’s Laureate, he added: “I’m trying to connect with and heal my younger self – a self unable to imagine a future writing and publishing books.
“Through this work, through the young people and families I am lucky enough to interact with, I’m trying to reach down through time and tell little Joe, ‘You can write, you can be a writer, your voice is valid your words are waiting to be heard.’
“Because I know that when the youth of today hear that message, he’ll hear it too.”
During his time as the 12th Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Coelho will “celebrate the power of poetry, showcase new authors and illustrators to diversify bookshelves and inspire bookmakers of the future, and champion public libraries and the role they play in communities”.
He performed a new poem, The Power Of A Poem, for the occasion.
Kate Edwards, chairwoman of the Waterstones Children’s Laureate Steering Group and chairwoman of the Waterstones Children’s Laureate 2022–24 judging panel, said: “Nominations for this prestigious role are invited from hundreds of literature, literacy and education organisations across the UK, and we are thrilled to welcome Joseph to the ‘League of Laureates’.
“His dynamic performance, passionate advocacy and engaging writing – which inspires children of all ages – cemented our choice for the next Waterstones Children’s Laureate, to champion the right of every child to enjoy a lifetime rich in books and stories.
“The Steering Group is looking forward to working with Joseph over the next two years to reach even more children and communities, following on from the wonderful work of the outgoing Laureate Cressida Cowell MBE. On behalf of the judges, I extend Joseph our warmest congratulations.”
Previous holders of the post – awarded every two years – include Sir Quentin Blake, Sir Michael Morpurgo, Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson.
Florentyna Martin, head of children’s at Waterstones said Coelho’s term would be “one for the history books”, while Diana Gerald, CEO at BookTrust added: “Joseph is an extraordinary advocate for making poetry accessible to all, celebrating creativity and storytelling and inspiring younger generations to find their voice, pick up a pen, join a library and read a book.”