If you grew up in Australia with a mum and/or dad who like to read to you at night, you were most likely read one if not many of Jackie French’s children books. They are quirky, loving and beautifully written (and illustrated). The woman behind these books is just as quirky, loving and beautiful as her work.
Jackie French was the 2015 Senior Australian of the Year and in 2016 was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia. This is because Jackie is not only a creative and artistic human being, she is a strong advocate for children’s literacy. Jackie suffers dyslexia herself and as the Australian Children’s Laureate (2014-15) she united with the media to better achieve:
- the right for every child to be guided to the books they’ll love;
- wider support, both in person and financially, of literacy and library projects for young people;
- the children’s literature industry to be seen as a vital part of Australia’s economy (see link for more).
I love the work that Jackie French does in engaging children and making literacy a fun and enjoyable task, rather than a hopeless challenge. It tells me that while the task doesn’t have to be complicated (reading a young child a story book at night before bed) it can have amazing and lasting impacts on a person’s life.
Whether or not you learn to read should not be reliant upon your social or financial status. Every child deserves the opportunity to engage with and enjoy books, and also to feel confident and empowered by and through their education. When a child is educated and literate they are far more likely to lift themselves from poverty and access higher education and/or business opportunities (this is supported throughout the world). We should not just think of this as a third world problem, or something that doesn’t impact on our societies. It is very easy for a child to become disengaged or scared of reading if they are not finding it as easy or natural as their peers. Teaching kids the feelings of magic, humour and silliness that we can get from reading helps us be creative and excited as children, which translates to us seeking enjoyment and playful experiences as adults.
I was brought to tears watching Jackie accept her Australian of the Year Award, I still remember sitting on the floor of my lounge room looking at her and feeling so much love, joy and happiness for her and because of her. The memories of her books swirling around in my head and the beauty and simplicity of her message made my eyes smart and my heart feel like it was going to burst. Some of my favourite grabs:
- ‘Yes a book can change a child’s life. A book can change the world.’
- ‘The most fulfilling thing of all is to hold a hand out to each other… and say ‘yes, that 101st time we will change the world, and it will be extraordinary’.’
It’s amazing to me that Jackie has spent her career creating and by all accounts doing things she loves. We don’t often see that as an option when it comes to our work and she gives me hope that it can be.
I often feel overwhelmed or bewildered when I see people slogging through life doing jobs they hate and I wonder ‘do I have to do that?’… While I don’t think it’s as simple as ‘no! of course not!’ I do think I have the opportunity to move through this life following a purpose I want to follow. That is a direct result of the fortune I have been afforded in growing up in Australia, with a mother who valued education, creativity and reading. I was always encouraged to read, to engage with the world, to consider my options and to be creative in what I thought I could achieve. I became able to apply myself because of skills I developed as a direct result of my being able to read and engage with books and the concepts within them at a young age. That is worth passing on. That is worth speaking out for. And Jackie French does it with the elegance and grace of a woman who not only knows her own worth, but the worth of her word.
Thank you to the following sites:
You can see a list of Jackie French’s books here.