Child Writes by Emma Mactaggart
Emma Mactaggart: Author, Publisher, Speaker, Founder of The Child Writes Fund, The Lighthouse Toowoomba and International Read to Me! Day
If you hear the words ‘child writes’ cobbled together, you may just nod, a wry smile acknowledging the quirk, and then move on.
Yet it is much more than just implying it is the right of a child to an education so they can express their thoughts clearly and advocate for their own future. Child Writes is a methodology tested in all the imaginable settings where children gather, a step-by-step hand-holding process where primary school aged children write and illustrate their own picture book. They discover their voice has value; their words matter; they can indeed draw; and to be proud of achieving something as monumental as having a book published is something they do indeed remember.
For nearly 20 years, 380 plus children have completed a book. I say ‘plus’ because whilst I have a fervent belief in children, I don’t put much stock in my own administrative skills. Some years, I taught at several schools and could have taken over 50 children through the 24-week program, and then set up their books for printing, organised their book launch, and delivered books to the National Library of Australia at least getting that bit right as far as legal deposit. My record keeping is still sporadic and yet the photo file continues to amaze and delight. Other years, like the Covid ones, we were lucky to get a merry band of children together to collaborate and create one single title. The one constant? Children’s unwavering passion for books, and reverence for writers and illustrators, and their ability to show the adults in the community what they need – to be safe and to be allowed to play.
The Child Writes books are unique in the sense they reflect the author’s own voice. Yes, each story endured layers and layers of editing. Some children would make up to twenty drafts, others only one. The key was to guide the children through the entire process and make the story the very best they could create on the day given their skills at that time. Of course, they look back and scoff at the childishness of the illustrations or roll their eyes in disbelief at what they considered the most important issue of the day. They were children. The issues were incredibly consuming at that time. Their books are therefore autobiographical, and this collection encapsulates the voice of a generation.
Like the books themselves, The Child Writes Fund has experimented with lots of iterations – from one guide with a classroom of children, to large groups writing one book, an online program, and even trained tutors to lead their own groups. Some children paid for the program (well, only one group – they were invited to make a donation to The Child Writes Fund if they wanted to!) and all the other children were gifted the program. Some children created micro businesses selling their books after publication, the majority simply celebrated at their book launch and relished the attention they received from their family at Christmas.
As I bundle up the books, I feel as though I am finishing a significant chapter in my own personal life. Yet I do know that like all good stories, the end is merely the beginning of infinite possibilities, and I can’t wait to see what this gift to the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature brings.
Emma Mactaggart and Belle Alderman AM first met (virtually) at the Queensland Book Links AGM on 9 October 2021 where Belle presented information about the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature Inc. Emma and Belle then held their own Zoom meeting. Emma offered her collection of over 350 books written and illustrated by children for the Centre’s collection—a gift from heaven! The Centre specifically collects books created by children, and Emma’s collection adds immensely to this special strength. The Centre is presently processing all these books for the Centre. What a treasure trove!
Posted by: NCACL | Published: 28 Feb 2023