Adding that she believed children needed to be allowed the “freedom to discover”, Child said she had been inspired by feedback from readers. “One of the questions I get asked most by children is where do I get my ideas from – as if there’s a sort of place where you find ideas or it’s a talent,” she said.
A multiple award-winning writer and artist, Child criticised the burden on parents to fill their children’s lives with activities “as if you aren’t a good parent if you are not signing your child up to all sorts of activities or taking them to galleries”.
“The pressure on parents to keep filling their children with information and experiences is too much,” she added. “Being bored is how you create things.”
The new laureate began writing and illustrating books while working as an artist’s assistant to Damien Hirst. Her first books, I Want a Pet and Clarice Bean, That’s Me were both published in 1999. The Clarice Bean series has since gone on to sell 6m copies worldwide.
Most famous for the Charlie and Lola books – the first of which won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2000 – Child said that much of her own inspiration came from periods of boredom as a child. “My parents were like Charlie and Lola’s, where they were around, maybe in the garden or the next room, but not constantly interacting with us,” she said. “I remember hours and hours messing about with my sisters or sat in my own room making things.” The TV series that sprang from the books, on which Child is an associate producer, has since gone on to win Baftas and airs in more than 34 countries.
Speaking from Hull, the 2017 City of Culture, where she was presented with her medal by outgoing laureate Chris Riddell on Wednesday, Child said she hoped to work with artists as well as writers and illustrators during her time in office. “I would love to talk to other artists whose work I admire,” she explained. “I think it is important for children to know we have our influences and get inspiration from all around us.”
Child poverty will also be at the forefront of Child’s laureateship, and she added her voice to those critical of plans to scrap free dinners for primary schoolchildren. “Children can’t learn if they are hungry,” said the author, who has worked with Unesco on its Education of Children in Need programme. “How can we expect them to take on all this information when they are going without anything to eat?”
Also on her agenda over the next two years will be raising the profile of the artistry involved in children’s book illustration. “There is this misconception that illustrators are constantly thinking about children and what they want or what’s commercial, but that is not true. Most illustrators are doing it because they need to create and love illustrating,” she said.
The 51-year-old is the 10th writer to take the children’s laureateship, a role that originated in a conversation between the then poet laureate Ted Hughes and children’s writer Michael Morpurgo. As well as the medal, the recipient also receives £15,000 bursary.
Asked if Damien Hirst would figure in her plans, Child said it was too early to say, but added that the attitude of the renowned British artist, once the most prominent provocateur of the Young British Artists, had been an inspiration. “He wanted to employ people who wanted to do something else, who had a vision of what they wanted to create,” she said. “He was not precious about his work; he was very generous.”