Local author Jackie French, best-selling author of over 140 books, including the iconic ‘Diary of a Wombat’ and ‘Hitler’s Daughter’, has been announced as the Australian Children's Laureate for 2014 – 2015.
French was presented with her Magpie Award, the symbol of the Laureate, at a ceremony at the National Library of Australia in Canberra last week by actor, director and former Play School presenter Rhys Muldoon.
She will take over from the inaugural Laureate – a position shared between Alison Lester and Boori Monty Pryor – in January 2014.
The Australian Children’s Laureate is an initiative developed by the Australian Children’s Literature Alliance, founded in 2008. The Laureate’s role is to promote the importance and transformational power of reading, creativity and story in the lives of young Australians.
The theme for French’s two-year term as Australian Children’s Laureate will be ‘Share a Story’.
“There are a million ways to share a story,” Jackie said. “To read to a child on your lap; to have a child read to you while you cook dinner; to read to the dog when it has to go to the vet to calm it (or you!) down; to join a storytelling session at your library. You can also tell your grandchildren what life was like when you were young over the phone or Skype or read to thousands of people via video conferencing.
Stories tell us who we are. They teach us empathy so we understand who others are. They give us the power to imagine and create the future.”
A resident of the Araluen Valley, Jackie is better known locally by her 'real' name, Jackie Ffrench - the second 'f' as left off her first three books by typesetters just before printing, and the publishers decided that it would confuse the public to try to change her name back to 'Ffrench'.
Jackie's many times great grandfather Peter Ffrench came to the district in 1839. Her maternal grandmother was born at Bell's Creek, where her father was the school master. Most of Jackie's work is based on the local landscape and community, from the very real wombat of 'Diary of a Wombat' whose daughter and grand-daughter still live under Jackie's house, to the 'Biscuit Creek' and Gibber's Creek' of her novels, which are slightly disguised versions of Braidwood, Major's Creek and Araluen. The identity of the school in ‘Wombat Goes to School’, created with the wonderful Bruce Whatley and the shearers and dogs in their ‘Pete The Sheep’, however, are a secret. ‘Pete the Sheep: the musical’ opens in Darling harbour next March and will then tour Australia.
Jackie will represent Australia nationally and internationally throughout 2014 and 2015 and will extend invitations to other laureates across the world to visit this deeply loved part of Australia.