I wouldn't be standing here if it hadn't been for the work, help and kindness of many, many other people. This will be a constant reminder to me that whatever work I get into as the Children's Laureate I should cooperate with all the other people and organisations pushing in the direction of making reading a delight and inspiration for young people. Part of the great achievement of Quentin, Anne, Michael and Jacqueline is that they've created paths and networks throughout the world of books for children which the laureates coming after them can use.
A special word for my immediate predecessor: Jacqueline is someone who writes books that fascinate millions and millions of readers. Her appearances make waves. She has created characters, scenes, moments and plots that have taken the thrill of reading to children of every kind. To pursue her aims of getting everyone to enjoy reading, all she needs to do is go on writing. The fact that she spent time and energy doing so much more than that has benefited everyone involved in writing, publishing, distributing and of course reading children's books.
It's a fantastic privilege to be following her and the previous laureates who I hasten to add haven't hung up their laurel crowns in the shed but go on and on drawing, writing, talking, visiting and helping new projects like the wonderful Seven Stories Museum in Newcastle or the forthcoming Museum of Illustration in London.
Another privilege I have to mention is that I was brought up by two special people. It's that moment when one of my children say, or the older sons and step-daughters said in the past, 'Read to me, Dad,' that I have felt most acutely how it was the hours and hours my parents spent sharing stories, poems and plays with my brother and me that got me into this whole malarkey. They were both teachers and a two-way street ran between our bedroom and their classrooms. My old copy of 'Peter Rabbit' has the stamp of Harvey Road Primary School on the endpapers, not because my mother nicked it from the Harvey Road store cupboard but because she filched it off my shelf and took it into school. It was her who took me to see the folklorist Alan Lomax take us on a trip across the USA with the songs of working people in Joan Littlewood's stage-show 'The Big Rock Candy Mountain'. She took me to the world of British Columbia with the stories of Ernest Thompson Seton, to Latin America with a book called 'Miskito Boy' and to the fight against the nobility in Geoffrey Trease's 'Bows Against the Barons'. And it was also her who, in the midst of her daily work in a primary school classroom, started to write and present poetry programmes for BBC Schools Radio. And it was me who used to look over her shoulder and wonder if I could have a go at writing this poetry stuff.
It was my father who pumped up the tilly lamp one night in a tent on a campsite on the North Yorkshire Coast, called us all in, sat us down, opened a book and began:
My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.
And went on night after night until it was finished.
It was the pair of them kneeling on the floor alongside that wonderful teacher and anthologist Geoffrey Summerfield as he laid out on the carpet of our front room hundreds and hundreds of poems, proverbs, songs, litanies and jokes from all over the world for what would become the great 'Voices' anthologies that helped me realise that I really could do this poetry stuff.
It was my brother in our bedroom at night waving his arms and doing all the funny voices of Geoffrey Willans' subversive 'Down With Skool'; the whole family in tears of laughter watching Peter Ustinov or us going to see my father's productions of school plays that helped me make the connection between writing and performance.
And it was two women formed in that 1940s and 50s intellectual tradition that loved and championed serious literature for children who first found a space for me in Schools Radio and Children's books: Joan Griffiths and Pam Royds.
I remember their work and their commitment to new and old, popular, high-quality multi-cultural children's literature when I look at where we are now.
This historical moment for us in our work is at one and the same time inspiring and difficult. Two facts: the sales of both children's picture books and original single-authored collections of poetry for children are dropping fast.
Why should this be? I suggest that the root cause is the same: many - not all - primary schools feel that they are no longer able to make reading a matter of free, wide-ranging exploration. Instead, reading in many but not all schools starts off by being something that has to be done quite explicitly without the use of books, followed by being something that is done when you read a reading book not a book, followed by being that thing you do when a teacher has some questions to ask you about what you have just read.
I think there are many consequences. Here's one tiny indicator: the spinners in the corners of newsagents used to be full of Ladybird books and tie-ins from movies. They are now full of spelling, punctuation and grammar drills.
I hope in my time as laureate to go on doing what I've been doing for thirty years: going into schools, libraries and theatres to share with children what I've been writing; working with children helping them to write; meeting teachers on courses to talk about ways of writing and ways of enjoying reading poetry; teaching children's literature in universities.
I would like to look at how the reading of poetry can be saved from the vice-like grip of the literacy strategy. Please let's remember: poetry can take us to places of our deepest misery, our greatest joy, to the exceedingly silly, to the foot-tapping heart-stopping wonder, to moments of unexplained melancholy. It can make the familiar unfamiliar and the unfamiliar familiar. It can be chanted, sung, yelled, whispered, read quietly to yourself, mimed, illustrated, danced to, filmed or accompanied by sounds that charm the ear. If you don't believe me, come and see hundreds of London children working with squads of poets year after year in the Barbican Education's 'Can I Have A Word?' project.
I'm hoping to work with all the agencies that provide live poetry experiences for children and perhaps add to them: so, for example, from the head of my son Joe comes the idea of using the technology of youTube to create a website where poets and children in schools could share their poetry performances; to work with the Book Trust to create a page on their website where we can all contribute ideas on how to make poetry-friendly classrooms free of closed-ended questions about similes, and why the effects created by the poet are effective; to get some kind of show on the road round the country packed full of poets. Why not The Poetry A-Z Show, from Agard to Zephaniah?
I'm hoping that I can convince the British Library and other libraries round the country to put on exhibitions that celebrate the fantastic history and present-day diversity we have in our books of poetry for children. The BL, after all, has in its possession a unique gem: the world's only complete copy of what is the world's first collection of nursery rhymes.
I have a provisional slogan for all this: 'Diverse verse for all'.
Again: the picture book is a unique, intricate and massively various art form. It offers families and classrooms a space in which ideas and emotions can be pored over, questioned, discussed and felt. Picture books are the fuse that lights our awareness that reading is full of intense pleasures. If schools aren't the places where a huge range of these small works of art are to be discovered, many children will never find their way to this pleasure. With this in mind, I'm looking forward to working closely with the Book Trust's initiative 'The Big Picture'.
On a broader canvas, I'm hoping to kick off something which I'm provisionally calling: 'Children's Literature Trails'. Hans Christian Andersen came near to where I live in Hackney to have a row with the woman who first translated his tales into English. Did he get what was owing to him for 'The Tinder Box'? Down the road Anna Laetitia Barbauld fought against slavery and wrote one of the first reading books for very young children for her own son whilst Anna Sewell grew up in my street and nearby before moving back to the county of her birth, Norfolk where she would write 'Black Beauty'. Did Anna Sewell read Anna Barbauld?
Every area has its connection with books and writers for children. I'm hoping to work with the Book Trust, Tourist Boards, libraries, education authorities and anyone else interested in coming up with some lively materials that will give families and schools places to visit all over the country, books and poems to read and fun activities to get involved in.
In just a moment, I have an important announcement to make, but before I do so, can I say, that the next two years will involve all kinds of sacrifices and extra work from one person I haven't mentioned: my wife Emma. I'm hoping that there'll be some occasions when our two children will be able to have some fun on laureate days too. Come to think of it, if they're not enjoying themselves then there's a good chance that others won't be either. I owe them and my older ones a great deal for the way in which they've given me motivation, a first audience, devastating criticism and - it must be said - ideas.
It's also my job today to make an announcement:
The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) is funding a new national programme called Booked Up aimed at encouraging Year 7 children to read for pleasure.
Every 11 year old in England in Autumn 2007 will be able to choose their own free book from a list sent to their school. The scheme will also provide an accompanying website, children's magazine and a range of add-on activities. The books will be delivered to schools in partnership with distributors Red House. If you want to know more, please talk to Katherine Solomon at the Book Trust.
Meanwhile, the DfES is also supporting the expansion of the current Booktime programme for every reception child in England, giving children the gift of a book pack shortly after they start school with a guidance booklet for parents and carers on shared reading.
The book for this year is 'Funnybones', by Allan and Janet Ahlberg, published by Puffin.
I'm more than happy to support the handing out of good books for free.
Thank you for listening.