About this time last year, I shared my excitement when Jackie French was recognised for her “long and distinguished career as a beloved children’s author” as Senior Australian of the Year. At the time she was halfway through her two-year role as Australian’s Children’s Laureate with the task of promoting “the importance and transformational power of reading, creativity and story in the lives of young Australians”.
Later in the year, in a series of posts celebrating Australian picture books, I shared more of Jackie’s work.
Now the roles of Children’s Laureate and Senior Australian of the Year have been passed to others. Jackie has obviously been asked what she is now going to do with all her “free” time. In her newsletter she says, “if one more person says ‘now you can relax’ if (sic) will bite them like a wombat, the snappish kind” because it means that work is finished, which it isn’t. I feel exactly the same way when people ask me about my retirement, though I fear Jackie and I work at a very different pace and the occupation of my time may seem like retirement in comparison to hers.
While an author may not have received the top recognition as Australian of the Year 2016, three advocates of children’s literature each became a Member of the Order of Australia:
Jackie French for ‘significant service to literature as an author of children’s books, and as an advocate for improved youth literacy’.
Ann James for ‘significant service to children’s literature as an author and illustrator and through advocacy roles with literacy and professional bodies’.
Ann Haddon for ‘significant services to children’s literature, as a fundraiser and supporter of Indigenous literacy, and to professional organisations’.
It is wonderful to see the recognition given to authors, and to the importance of reading.
One of my favourite books, illustrated by Ann James is Lucy Goosey. It is a beautiful story, written by Margaret Wild, about the love between mother and child. I can’t read it all the way through without crying. But in a good way. It is very touching.
Ann talks about illustrating the story here:
I’m also pleased to say that I have an original Ann James, done for Bec at a literary festival many years ago, hanging on my wall.
In her Senior Australian of the Year Valedictory Speech, Jackie French says,
“You never know what seeds you plant will grow; if they will keep growing; who will take them and tend them. But there is one thing I have learned in my 62 years: keep planting seeds.
Never think: I am 62 and still have not achieved world peace, universal tolerance and justice, or even an Australia where every single child is given the chance to learn to read.
Change is never fast enough for any person of goodwill.
A rain drop is just a rain drop. But together we are a flood. Together we have changed the world.”
She concludes her speech with these words:
“Let us give our children role models who do not, will not despair, no matter how long it takes to change the world. And let us never surrender, no matter how tired we are, or how long it takes. Because with these weapons we shape the future of our planet.”
I like her words of hope. She is a meliorist. But even more than that, she is an active meliorist. She puts her words into action. She may no longer carry the title of Children’s Laureate or Australian of the Year, but her advocacy doesn’t stop.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.