Siobhan Dowd, award-winning author and champion of children reading for pleasure, left a legacy and the Siobhan Dowd Trust was established to give young people the opportunity to read and enjoy literature. As a fellow author and champion of children reading for pleasure, Cressida Cowell took to the book festival theatre stage this year, stressing that writing for children is the, “greatest gift on earth.”

She delivered a very animated and succinct lecture that highlighted the benefits that books and reading brings to children. Highlighting that they encourage empathy, as things that happen in a book happen inside your head, enable children to engage with issues and topics before officially educated on these. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” is a quote from Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which Cowell reminds us. That really hits it home – through Lee’s conceivable and moving prose, character development and plot, empathy is taught to children.

She reminds us of the challenges and obstacles that those in the book industry face, “how do you get all children to read for pleasure when under such threat?” Reminding us that it’s not statutory to have a school library, she questions how on earth children are to become readers for pleasure when there is no access of books altogether, and with the depletion of libraries both public and in school buildings the threat is real. As she considers that children today are more visual, books still play their part – the whole decoding process of learning to read so they can come to represent something that they can visualise.

She also significantly stressed that children can cope with sophisticated storytelling (you only have to look at an episode of the Simpsons to spot this) and that books should not talk down to them, whilst they are only truly interested in the important in life. What makes a good leader? Is it ever justifiable to go to war? These are topics that children like to read about and it’s important that they are written about. The writer of How To Train A Dragon series mentioned that she particularly loves the creative responses to the questions her books pose.

A fantastic writer to deliver such an affecting and vital speech about the importance of books for children and reading for pleasure.