by: Anita Singh
Photo: GEOFF PUGH
Julia Donaldson set out her stall in the new role by speaking out against the government's planned library closures.
The best-selling author of The Gruffalo said she was "heartbroken" at the prospect of library cuts and would spend her two-year tenure campaigning against them.
"I care very much about libraries and I'm looking for more opportunities to speak out against the cuts and closures I see as so damaging to our children's future," said Donaldson, who was the most borrowed children's author in 2010.
"In 10 days' time I'm going to visit Whithorn Library in Dumfries and Galloway, which is having its 100th birthday. It should be a lovely cause for celebration but it is facing the axe.
"I just hope that by doing more library visits I can bring these issues to widespread attention." She hopes to undertake a tour of libraries "from Lands End to John O'Groats".
Donaldson argued that the internet is no substitute for the personal service provided by libraries.
"For children, it is vital they can visit libraries and speak to expert librarians who can help them discover their taste in books," she said. "I think it's rubbish when children do their homework on the internet. Half the time they just print out a whole lot of bumph they don't understand. Doing their own research is much better than churning out stuff from the internet."
Donaldson was speaking after the Waterstone's Children's Laureate ceremony, where attendees included Ed Vaizey, the culture minister
She will find a supporter in Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United boss, who recently despaired of his players using Twitter.
"I don't understand it. I don't know why anybody can be bothered with that kind of stuff. There are a million things you can do in your life without that. Get yourself down to the library and read a book," he said.
Donaldson succeeded Anthony Browne, the children's illustrator, and becomes the seventh person to hold the title.
As author of The Gruffalo, which has sold over 15 million copies and been published in 42 countries, she has done more than most to foster children's love of reading.
She believes that acting out stories with the aid of song and dance, rather than sticking to the written word, is key to improving literacy.
"It's very important for people to realise that children need different ways into reading. We should encourage children to act out stories," said Donaldson.
"Acting is such fun for children and beneficial in lots of ways. If it's scripted well, it's fantastic for reading development and self-confidence.
"It's great that phonics are back with a bit of a vengeance, but we must be aware that some children don't respond that well. Children should get enthused about stories, not just read texts and excerpts.
"My background is in songwriting and drama and playwriting and acting and performing, and I'm hoping to bring some of those things to the job."
Donaldson, 62, met her husband, Malcolm, whilst busking in Paris. She went on to become a songwriter for children's television before publishing The Gruffalo in 1999, with illustrations by Axel Scheffler.
She suffered tragedy in 2003 when Hamish, one of her three sons, committed suicide aged 25. He suffered from schizo-affective disorder which Donaldson believes was exacerbated by cannabis use.
The Gruffalo has become one of the best-selling children's books of all time but Donaldson vetoed an eBook version and does not believe they are good for children.
"I'm not anti-eBooks, but I'm not the world's greatest fan," she said. "They are fine for adults, and there is an eBook of my teenage novel, but I don't feel human should be controlled by technology.
"I saw an Alice in Wonderland app with her neck growing and shrinking - no child with that is going to bother to listen or read the words. That doesn't do anything for me."
Donaldson joked that she had "had enough" of The Gruffalo, which has spawned an animated film and extensive range of merchandise. She is the author of 156 other books.