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Children's Laureate on mission to give our kids chapter and verse

By Amanda Ferguson

It's her first visit to Northern Ireland – and she's here on a mission to get children reading and writing.

UK Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman has been reaching out to bright young minds across the province with an inspirational tour in the hope of getting them to pick up their pens and books.

Youngsters in Belfast, Londonderry and beyond got the chance to quiz the Noughts And Crosses author at a series of Q&A and workshop events.

The Kent-based writer, who has a back catalogue of more than 60 books, visited pupils in the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry and, in Belfast, at Hazelwood Integrated College, Cregagh Library and Fleming Fulton School.

She then topped her trip off with an 'in conversation' session at Stormont with her Irish counterpart, Laureate Na n'Og Niamh Sharkey.

Ms Blackman, who took over as Children's Laureate from Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson last year, told the Belfast Telegraph she had previously visited Dublin, but this visit marked her first time in Northern Ireland.

The special tour to meet young writers and readers was organised by Booktrust NI and the Arts Council.

"I am loving it," she said. The role of Children's Laureate is awarded once every two years to an eminent writer or illustrator of children's books to celebrate outstanding achievement in their field.

The idea originated from a conversation between the then poet laureate Ted Hughes and children's writer Michael Morpurgo.

Quentin Blake (bottom left) was the first Children's Laureate (1999-2001), followed by Anne Fine (2001-3); Michael Morpurgo (2003-5); Jacqueline Wilson (2005-7, left); Michael Rosen (2007-9); Anthony Browne (2009-11), Julia Donaldson (2011-13), and now Ms Blackman, who will be in place until next year.

The author said she became a writer as she always had "a love of reading and books and stories".

"My dad thought I would never learn anything from fiction, but I think he was entirely wrong," she said. "It improved my vocabulary and I learned more about different cultures than I ever did through non-fiction."

Ms Blackman also confirmed she was a fan of north Belfast children's illustrator and author Oliver Jeffers. The US-based former pupil of St Therese of Lisieux and Hazelwood Integrated College has produced a series of best-selling children's books such as How To Catch A Star and The Incredible Book Eating Boy.

"Any good writer and storyteller communicates ideas," said Malorie. "He is absolutely brilliant."

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