Judges and celebrity supporters
Our Literacy Heroes judging panel is:
Cressida Cowell - author of bestselling How to Train Your Dragon series
Miles Jupp - comedian and Radio 4 regular
Dorothy Koomson - bestselling novelist
Lucy Mangan - columnist and author
Levi Roots - entrepreneur and Dragons' Den winner
Joanna Trollope - bestselling author
They tell us about their own Literacy Heroes below, along with other celebrity supporters.
Antony Beevor is a historian and author. He nominates:
J K Rowling, author
My Literacy Hero is JK Rowling. I can think of no other writer today who has done more to encourage children to read. Magic has always appealed to children, with its beguiling fantasy of being able to change oneself and right wrongs. Her books have shown literally millions of children around the world the true pleasure and confidence which only reading can convey.
Malorie Blackman is the current Children's Laureate. She nominates:
James Berry, author
Although James Berry is best known for his poetry, I first grew to know and love his work via his short story collection, The Thief in the Village and other stories. When I bought it from a children's book shop, it was the only book in the entire shop that had a black child on the cover (well, two black children actually), so of course I wanted to know more. James is such an skilled, accomplished writer. Here were stories that were vivid and enthralling. And some of the stories conjured up so clearly the sights and sound of the Caribbean. James not only demonstrated that I could, as a black writer, get stories published in the UK but he also showed that I could use my own style, my own voice to tell them. That's why I'd like to nominate James Berry as my Literacy Hero.
Cressida Cowell is the bestselling author of the How to Train your Dragon series. She nominates:
My Literacy Hero is my mother. My mother loved books, and she wanted us to love them too. My mother read us stories, she put on funny voices, and brought them to life. She took us to libraries and second-hand bookshops so we could experiment with books, trying them all out, to find out what we liked. Like most children we went through stages of getting ‘stuck’ and not knowing what to read next. My mother bought us the Beano and Batman and Judge Dredd 2000 AD while we were making up our minds. She pretended not to be disappointed when we didn’t really get the point of ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ however well she read it.
Whatever happened, she kept on trying. When I was five years old, my mother covered an exercise book with wrapping paper and stuck CRESSIDA on the front, a book for me to write stories in, whatever stories I wanted. She probably won’t remember, but I remember. I am still writing those stories.
Garrison Keillor once wrote: "Nothing you do for children is ever wasted. They seem not to notice us, hovering, averting our eyes, and they seldom offer thanks, but what we do for them is never wasted." Stories read to you in your parent’s voice live with you all your life.
Miles Jupp is a comedian and Radio 4 regular. He nominates:
My own personal Literacy Hero is my older brother Ed. We were lucky enough to grow up in a house with loads of books, and parents who encouraged us to read. I tended to look on books as decorative objects, but I was increasingly inspired by the fact that Ed was always reading and reading and reading. I thought that children read children's books and grownups read grownup books, but by the time Ed was 11 or 12 he seemed to be reading the same sort of books that my parents read. He taught me that I didn't need to be intimidated by any sort of books.
He told me once about being in the library at school, when another boy picked up and started to read some sophisticated tome. Before the boy had reached the end of the first page, he had to get up and go to find out what something meant in a dictionary. "I'm going to learn a lot reading this," the boy had said, and having found out what the word meant, he sat down to continue reading. Ed embraced that attitude and continued to read and read and read. Furthermore, he now works for Midlothian Library Service in Scotland and continues to encourage others of all ages to read and read more.
Dorothy Koomson is a bestselling novelist. She nominates:
I’ve long admired Oprah for the way she has brought several important issues to the forefront of people’s consciousness, but it was what she did globally for reading that has established her as one of my enduring literacy heroes. When she began her television book club in 1996, selecting a book to read every month with her viewers and then discussing it on the show, she helped to transform reading across the world. Many people in lots of different countries were inspired to start their own public and personal book clubs realising that all they needed to do so was a good book and people to talk about it with. Reading is one of the best things to do and anyone who makes it accessible, desirable and most importantly, possible for other people, is a hero to me.
Lucy Mangan is a columnist, author, and mother of a young baby. She nominates:
If there's anything more inspiring, uplifting and all-round amazing than someone taking the money they've earned from their God-given talent coupled with years of hard work and astonishing business acumen, and using it to supply underprivileged children with over 50 million free books in the last 17 years, I don't know what it is and I don't know who did it.
Dolly Parton began the Imagination Library in 1996 because she grew up knowing how crippling her brilliant and beloved father found his illiteracy - and knowing too that in the rural, desperately poor part of Tennessee where the 12 Parton children were raised by their parents (literally in a one-roomed shack, papered with newspaper to keep out the draughts) he was far from alone.
I love that she knows in her bones how important reading is, how life-changing it can be, what a raw power it is and what an absolute good it has always and will always be. And I love that she has never forgotten how impossible it can be to master, to make it into a part of yourself so that it comes as easily and naturally as it should, like breathing, unless someone, somewhere helps you, and helps you hard. Countless thousands of children in the US and now in Europe, where she launched the Imagination Library five years ago call her "the Book Lady." And how.
Levi Roots is an entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den winner. He nominates:
My own Literacy Hero would have to be my mum. She has done everything you would expect from a mother – and more! My parents moved to the UK from Jamaica when I was a small child. I realise now, being a parent myself, that it was an incredibly difficult choice for them to have to make. They believed that the UK would offer the whole family a much better life. I lived with my grandparents in Jamaica until the age of 11 when I joined my family in London. I couldn’t read or write when I first arrived, as I’d never been to school or ever worn shoes! My mother could see that I was struggling at school and worked so hard with me, reading and writing every day at home to bring me up to speed with my peers.
Without her constant love and support I would most likely have chosen another path in life which would certainly not have led me the point I’m at today. I owe my Mum a huge debt of gratitude and still go to her when I need guidance. The night before I appeared on Dragons Den, I sought her advice. She told me to read Psalm 23 - The Lord is my Shepherd - in my Bible and she was absolutely right. I've never wanted for anything since!
Barbara Taylor Bradford is a bestselling author. She nominates:
My mother is my Literary Hero. She had a great love of books, and because of her, so do I. When I was small she taught me to read, and when I first went to nursery, I was the only child in the class who could do that. I was four and a half years old. She soon got me a library card at our local public library. I was five or six at the time. Books became part of my life as a little girl. And they still are today.
She helped me to tackle the classics, and by the time I was 12 I had read most of Charles Dickens’ books and those by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte. As a special treat, she would often take me to the Parsonage in Haworth where the sisters grew up. I was fascinated by their childhood writings, which were on display. In a certain way they were my inspiration, as was my mother.
Why not give a child you know a book and help them to learn to read it? Or an adult who needs help for that matter? You will introduce them to captivating places created by a writer's talent and imagination, and give them pleasure.
Joanna Trollope is a bestselling author. She nominates:
Laura Bush, former First Lady
She is not, perhaps, the coolest ambassador for literacy. In fact, when her husband was in power, Private Eye always referred to her as The Chief Librarian. But the teasing underestimated the hugely effective work that Laura Bush did on behalf of first American, and then Developing World, illiteracy, starting with her passionate advocacy of the President's historic education reform, the No Child Left Behind Act, in his first term of office.
She launched the education initiative, "Ready to Read, Ready to Learn" and in 2003 became a powerful ambassador for the UN's Literacy Decade, convening world leaders for annual summits, and hosting the first ever White House conference on global literacy in 2006. The trickle down effect of her efforts has been huge, both in the US and around the world. And without her, America's National Book Festival wouldn't even exist.
What is more, she used her position to raise awareness of innovative ways of teaching children especially to read. How many Americans, young and old, might never have come back to books, or even discovered how to read in the first place, if it hadn't been for the quiet, steady, influential efforts of Laura Bush?