Category Archives: Lecture News

Joseph Coelho – Creativity Through Poetry

From the moment Joseph Coelho steps onto the stage, the auditorium is transformed into a relaxed, creative space where the audience is invited to immerse themselves in the poetry and the fun. And as soon becomes clear, inviting audiences in and making them feel part of a collective story is very much part of Joseph’s ethos. For him, everyone is a natural writer and poet, and his Laureateship has been about opening up spaces for children to see themselves as storytellers, and about making poetry compelling and fun rather than intimidating or dry. 

He recalls his sixth-form self meeting the Caribbean dub poet and storyteller, Jean Binta Breeze, and discovering the world of spoken-word poetry. It was this encounter that opened up the possibility of becoming a writer – not something he’d thought of as an option before. And so, he set off. Performing poetry, writing and performing in plays, sometimes living out of his micro-camper, “Elsie-G”, eventually led to a meeting with a publisher at Walker and then to more than 35 books for children of all ages.

As Children’s Laureate, Joseph has been travelling around the UK, visiting and joining 213 libraries, cycling some of the way on a homemade bamboo bike. He proudly shows his collection of library cards before telling us about his Bookmaker Like You project, which is helping to diversify bookshelves and bring children into contact with a wider range of of writers and creators. “Wait for no-one!” he says. “There are no gatekeepers apart from those that you give keys and chains to.” 

Joseph emphasises the importance of play – the “climb, leap and swing” route into poetry for children. It’s certainly not about finding “the right answer”, and as he reads his poem, “An A* from Miss”, in which a teacher seeks to reduce a child’s attempts at poetry writing to clichés and formulaic expressions, there’s a chuckle of recognition in the audience. He then sets about showing us that poetry is innate and belongs to everyone; that it can be limited or boundless, long or short, rhyming or rambling or ridiculous. Images go up on the screen and we yell out suggestions for one-word poems to go with long titles – “The sad tale of a fly”? – “Splatt!” Then the whole audience collaborates on a longer composition, supplying lines about the sun that magically coalesce into an amusing poem. 

At the heart of all this is the message that poetry is not about you and it’s not about me. Poetry, says Joseph, is about giving. It’s a point of connection, most needed when it speaks to something that we can put no other kind of words to. We need poetry, he says, because “it cuts through the sludge to the tendons of the heart”. In times such as these, the world perhaps needs this now more than anything.

Alongside this year’s lecture, the “Creativity through Poetry” exhibition at the Homerton Library offered not only some rare gems from their children’s literature collection, but also a “Poet-tree”, inspired by Joseph’s poem, “Library”: “It is a library, but also, it is alive, it breathes, it is a wood, it is a forest.” Along the branches are snippets of Joseph’s poetry – “you’re going to fill the world with blossoms. / How could you not?” – while paper blossoms offer poetic words of peace and consolation for library visitors to take away. The exhibition is open until 13th July.

Blakeney Clark (MPhil Student, Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature, University of Cambridge)

The 2024 Lecture

THE 2024 PHILIPPA PEARCE LECTURE will given by Joseph Coelho and will be entitled: Creativity Through Poetry.

The multi-talented Joesph Coelho is a poet, performer, and playwright. In 2022 Joseph became the 12th Children’s Laureate.Stepping into the role, he said that he wanted to celebrate the power of poetry, showcase new authors and illustrators to diversify bookshelves, and inspire.

Booking is open for the 2016 lecture by Allan Ahlberg

BOOKING IS NOW OPEN for Allan Ahlberg’s lecture,

A Rigmarole
in seven
or possibly eleven parts
with readings from
Marilynne Robinson
William Maxwell
William Strunk, Jr.
The Guardian newspaper
The Shorter Oxford
(some singing).

The lecture will take place at 5.00pm on the 1st of September in the Mary Allan Building, Homerton College, Cambridge. After the lecture there will be a short wine reception.

Both lecture and reception are free.

To book your ticket please use the booking page. If you wish to book a second ticket please revisit the page and repeat the booking process. Once booked you will receive a confirmation email that includes your e-ticket. Print it out or download a mobile version, and take this with you to the lecture.

The lecture is funded by donations. If you would like to donate, you can do this when you book your ticket.

Do not be afraid to be afraid


On a warm September afternoon, under blue Cambridge skies, Meg Rosoff took to the podium in front of an expectant audience gathered from across the country for the 8th Annual Pearce Lecture.

“We knew when we invited you that you wouldn’t shy away from the difficult questions.” As Louise Joy went on to affirm in her concluding remarks, Meg Rosoff did indeed delight her audience with a lecture displaying a “combination of courage and lyricism”.

In a talk that ranged effortlessly from Goldilocks and the Tooth Fairy to Harry Potter and Albert Einstein, Meg left us in awe – but also inspired and empowered. Starting from her own particular connection with Philippa Pearce, she described how, having first met the octogenarian author as a “fawning middle-aged fan”, she went on to champion Pearce’s The Little Gentleman as a member of the Guardian Children’s Book Prize panel. Since the rest of the panel were not convinced that death was a suitable subject for children’s literature, it did not win. But there in the lecture, Meg felt, justice was done. And so, with humour and humility she examined the vital role of fantasy, fairytale and fear – and their attendant risks – in the lives of children.

Taking her title from a line in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Meg used her powers of storytelling, and drew on research, literature and personal experience, to demonstrate that fear itself is not the problem. And that, paradoxically, if we shy away from it, we will find ourselves in the grip of another fear – that of failure. Indeed, she observed, some commentators warn that we now have a society raising a compliant generation so fearful of failure they are unable to take risks, to be intellectually curious.

Conversely, as Meg argued, children all need to experience risk, to have the freedom to explore the “What ifs …” Which is precisely what stories of all kinds, from fairytales to young adult novels afford. Richard Dawkins may prescribe “fostering scepticism instead of filling their heads with fantasy”, but imagination – the quality that sets the human species apart – is needed for science as much as for storytelling. As Meg pointed out, for some of the most fantastic stories ever invented, you only have to turn to the spinning tales of multiverses and black holes.

But the message was not only for children and their parents, or for would-be scientists. Talking candidly of the very real challenges in being a writer, and of that “awkward period between novels when the existence of the next book is not a foregone conclusion”, Meg deftly turned her attention to the risk-taking required of the children’s or YA author, who “gives young people the power to shape their own stories”. Again, fiction and fantasy hold the key, and for her it is Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat (“reads like a postmodern anarchist’s handbook”) which supplies the essential image. “I have become my hero; I am the 58-year-old that sneaks into the house and causes havoc,” she revealed. Thus, she ended by issuing her provocation, not to her audience, or to child readers, but to herself: “think big thoughts, and do not be afraid to be afraid”.

Last week’s lecture

Meg Rosoff’s lecture was a great success. Clever, witty insightful and often funny too. A lot of the voices that I overheard in the auditorium and at the reception afterwards were saying that it was one of the best so far.

If all goes well there will be a lecture video here and on the 2015 lecture page in the next few days.

One more week to go!

One week to go until Meg Rosoff gives her Philippa Pearce Memorial lecture!

Entitled: Do Not Be Afraid To Be Afraid, it will take place at 5.00pm on the 10th of September in the Mary Allan Building, Homerton College, Cambridge.

There are still some seats left, so do come to the Pearce Lecture website and book if you are interested. Remember the event is free! After the lecture there will be a short wine reception. Both lecture and reception are funded entirely by donations. There will be a collection immediately after the lecture.

Booking is now open for Meg Rosoff’s 2015 lecture

BOOKING IS NOW OPEN for Meg Rosoff’s lecture, Do Not Be Afraid To Be Afraid.

The lecture will take place at 5.00pm on the 10th of September in the Mary Allan Building, Homerton College, Cambridge. After the lecture there will be a short wine reception. Both lecture and reception are free, but are funded by donations. There will be a collection immediately after the lecture.

Please book your free tickets, with a maximum of two per applicant, using the form on the booking page. If you have party of more than two you will need to make a second booking using an additional email account.

Once booked you will receive a confirmation email that is also your e-ticket. Print it out, keep it safely and take it with you to the lecture.

If you have previously booked a ticket with us, then you should use the password that you created then for the current booking. People booking for the first time will find that they need to set up an account. If you have forgotten your password there is an option that will allow you to create a new one.

If you have booked tickets, but have not received the confirmation email, please check any junk mail folders. If your email address is behind a company firewall, we recommend that you contact your IT department to make certain that the domain is not blacklisted. Otherwise, please get in touch.

This Year’s Lecture: Meg Rosoff

A quick note to remind people that this years lecure will be given by Meg Rosoff. It is entitled, DO NOT BE AFRAID TO BE AFRAID and will take place be at 5:00pm on the 10th of September, Homerton College, Cambridge,

We often open booking right at the start of July – this year there is a slight delay but we hope to have the booking page up and running very soon indeed. If you want to be informed the moment that ticketng open, please join our mailing list or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.