Ten cheers for our new Children’s Laureate!

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I was so excited to be invited to the launch of Sally Rippin’s two year program as Australian Children’s Laureate on Tuesday, though surprised to spot a former colleague in the crowd who was once staunchly anti-phonics and pro Reading Recovery/Fountas and Pinnell.

Then I realised: Sally is the Perzackly Perfect Person to cheer people off the sinking Balanced Literacy ship (especially since the Grattan Institute’s Reading Guarantee report), and onto ship Structured Literacy, so all kids can hurry up and start enjoying wonderful stories.

Sally isn’t just an author of great kids’ books, she’s the mum of a neurodivergent kid who struggled to read and spell, and a staunch advocate of making sure all kids are taught to crack our spelling code, instead of being encouraged to memorise and guess words. Her book for adults about this, Wild Things: how we learn to read, and what can happen if we don’t, should be in every school and local library. Here she is at the launch with queen of our activist dyslexia mums, Dyslexia Victoria Support founder Heidi Gregory.

Sally’s term as Children’s Laureate is the perfect time for a strong push to dump dross like predictable/repetitive texts and rote-memorisation of high frequency word lists, and promote things like decodable texts and systematic, explicit phonics teaching in Years F-2. It’s also the perfect time to improve early identification and intervention for neurodivergent kids in schools, and knock down barriers to reading for all kids.

The Grattan Institute report (there’s a podcast about it here, and a 20-minute YouTube summary here) says kids with poor literacy currently in school could cost taxpayers $40 billion over their lifetimes, not to mention the personal cost to those kids. I cannot think of a better use of my taxes than ensuring all schools use literacy-teaching methods that are based on the best available evidence, and that struggling and neurodiverse kids whose parents can’t afford high-quality private intervention don’t miss out on it.

At the launch I also got a copy of Come Over To My House, a picture book co-authored by Eliza Hull, full of stories about making the world more accessible for everyone. It’s perfect for our waiting room. I also got some School Of Monsters compilations for our lending library, signed by Sally and illustrator Chris Kennett (who also drew little bats on them). Chris taught everyone at the launch how to draw a monster, which was rather hilarious.

Sally will be travelling all over Australia in the next two years, so make sure you find out when she is coming to a town or city near you (the ACLF newsletter and social media information is here), and spread the word. It’s a story well worth telling.


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