If you thought that story telling was dead, think again. Michael Morpurgo is one of the greatest storytellers alive and well in the 21st Century. His children's stories are being told to new generations of children that have been springing up since he wrote his first piece of literary work in the 1980s. Morpurgo has gone on to write over 100 books. His works have been translated into 26 languages. Some of his stories have been turned into television series and stage plays. He has also written screenplays and libretti for operas.
Michael Morpurgo was born in St Albans, Hertfordshire, in 1943. In childhood he attended a number of schools across the South of England. One of the schools, a boarding school, is reflected upon in his book The Butterfly Lion. Later he embarked on an army career at Sandhurst Military Academy, but this was short-lived as he went back to his studies. He learnt French and English at King's College, London and trained as a teacher, landing himself a Primary School teaching post in Kent upon graduation. Inspired by Ted Hughes' Poetry in the Making and his own teaching experiences, it was in Kent that Morpurgo decided upon becoming a writer.
We had to read the children a story every day and my lot were bored by the book I was reading. I decided I had to do something and told them the kind of story I used to tell my kids - it was like a soap opera, and they focused on it. I could see there was magic in it for them, and realised there was magic in it for me.
Morpurgo is the writer that many schools and indeed libraries are crying out for. With his old-fashioned approach to writing, the values inherent in the stories he tells transcend time and place. He is able to get inside the imaginative minds of young and old alike and delight them with his storytelling. The theme of 'community' and 'young and old' are also reflected within his stories, mirroring his target audience. The theme of 'nature' is particularly significant when a group of children listen to his stories on one of his farms in the UK. Of course you don't need to be one of the lucky ones who gets to visit one of his farms; his stories surrounding these themes will have an impact on you where ever you are.
Most of us have heard stories of the wars that he discusses in some of his books, of the Holocaust, and of the mythological figures of King Arthur and Robin Hood. Some will have heard of Sir Walter Raleigh, or of the the foot and mouth disease outbreak. Perhaps you may have even heard about the whales swimming up the Thames. These stories are already known to generations of people, but nevertheless they had a profound effect on Michael Morpurgo and he feels the need to retell them and to excite a new generation that is starting to learn about them too.
His books are too numerous to all be listed here, but you might like to start with this selection:
It Never Rained: Five Stories - his first book, containing his very first work.
My Friend Walter - the tale of what happens when Sir Walter Raleigh sends out invitations to generations of his family, despite being a ghost.
Out of the Ashes - the diary accounts of Becky Morley, who witnesses first-hand the devastation of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
The Mozart Question - the tale of Paolo Levi, a young lad who yearns to play the violin, after learning his father played the instrument himself.
The War Horse - the tale of Albert and the survival of his friendship with his horse Joey through the First World War.
Farms For City Children
During his ten years as a teacher he became increasingly aware that many children had little knowledge of animals, so in 1976 he left teaching behind and moved to Devon with his wife, Clare, and set up the charity Farms for City Children.
As a teacher I realised many children had little real contact with the world around them – to them the television was real. I wanted them to experience life at first hand.
The aim of the charity is to encourage inner city children to form bonds with animals by visiting a farm and playing farmer for a week. Morpurgo owns three farms in total, one in Nethercott, Devon, another in Treginnis, Wales, and a third in Wick, Gloucestershire. The charity has been so successful1 that he has been given backing from the Princess Royal and he and his wife have become MBEs2 for services to youth.
Morpurgo currently lives in Devon with his wife. They have three children and are grandparents six times over. Morpurgo is always surrounded by children, whether they are his own or children that visit him on any of his three farms.
For me, the greater part of writing is daydreaming, dreaming the dream of my story until it hatches out - the writing down of it I always find hard. But I love finishing it, then holding the book in my hand and sharing my dream with my readers.
The Children's Laureate
The Children's Laureate scheme arose out of a conversation between Murpurgo and the then Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes. This award is given out to authors who spend their lives writing for children and reflects how important reading is to them. Morpurgo himself won the award in 2003 and held it till 2005. He firmly believes that children ought '... to discover and rediscover the secret pleasure that is reading, and to begin to find their voice in their own writing'.