Author Jackie French on her Australia Day honour: '50,000 deserve it more'

The author and children’s literacy advocate says education has reached a tipping point: ‘There are the most fabulous programs about to be rolled out’

The author and literacy educator Jackie French says everyone talks about “tireless” workers for children’s literacy. “But take it from me,” she says, “every one of them is very, very tired indeed.”

French’s achievements are themselves exhaustive: she is a bestselling author of books for both children and adults; was 2015 Senior Australian of the Year and children’s laureate; is the recipient of countless awards for her writing and advocacy; and is patron of organisations to promote reading and support Australians with dyslexia.

But while she is honoured to become a member of the Order of Australia (AM) , her immediate reaction is “more a feeling of guilt, I think”.

“There’s always the knowledge that there are 50,000 people working in the same area who deserve the award more,” she says. “Basically I got it because I’m eloquent.”

She adds that awards are given to those who can make use of them on behalf of others in the community rather than for their own benefit.

As far as children’s literacy is concerned, French says education has reached a tipping point: “It wasn’t on the agenda two years ago. Now in Tasmania, the Northern Territory and Queensland there are the most fabulous programs about to be rolled out. There is so much that has been achieved and that is being done.

“It makes it hard for those state governments who are doing nothing to keep doing nothing.”

While her honour will draw further attention to her literacy advocacy, she is less sanguine about its ability to shift copies of books. “I actually think a good book probably attracts people to read another good book more than an award does. Nobody says, ‘Oh, that author has an award? I must head off to the library.’

“The best way to get people to read is to provide very good books and good libraries and opening hours and public transport to get there, and trained librarians to help readers.”

She hopes to have more time to write in 2016, and for lunch with friends. “My advocacy work will continue but this year we’ll be launching and announcing programs, which will be just brilliant.”


Adam Brereton

The GuardianTramp

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