“Writing for children is the greatest privilege on earth” | Cressida Cowell

“Writing for children is the greatest privilege on earth” | Cressida Cowell

I’ve been doing events at the Hay Festival for over a decade, and I was delighted to be invited to attend the International Children’s Festival in Aarhus. The festival has been hugely supportive of children’s books and it’s wonderful that that commitment extends overseas.

I have spent fifteen years writing the How to Train Your Dragon books, and over those fifteen years I have lost count of the times people have asked me, ‘Have you ever thought of writing for adults?’ as if writing for children was some sort of second best activity, before moving on to the higher level of writing for adults.

For me, writing for children is the greatest privilege on earth. What a gift it is, to be lucky enough to write for children, and therefore to be constantly reminded to look at the world through the cool clear eyes of a child. For children are interested in the truly important things in life: heroism, wilderness, our relationship with the natural world, death, love, spirituality, adventure. The Hay Festival motto of ‘imagine the world’ is particularly apposite here, because children, in my experience, can imagine far beyond most adults.

My own personal Quest as a writer is to play some small part in trying to get the children of today to read books with the same excitement and wonder that I read them when I was a kid, despite the competition for their attention from film, internet and television.

Part of that Quest is talking to children directly, to inspire and engage them with reading. Festivals have an absolutely vital role – they create a party atmosphere; an irresistible air of excitement. I’ve had so many rewarding experiences at festivals: I had a child run onto the stage (his mother with an anguished cry of ‘noooooo’) to share an answer to a question; every year at Hay I get asked a question I’ve never been asked before, in 18 years of being an author. I love it when families come along together because they read my books as a family.

At its most impactful, children’s reading is a shared activity – books read to you in your parent’s voice live with you all your life, and become part of your joint family history far beyond childhood. Reading for pleasure is also crucial in building an awareness of community and developing empathy in children.  Hay Festival’s passionate dedication means that children’s books are celebrated and shared far beyond individual readers and families, and even national borders – and that’s essential, for all of us.

Cressida Cowell’s new book, The Wizards of Once, is out now.