Michael Rosen

Michael Rosen
Michael Wayne Rosen

Michael Rosen giving a poetry reading as part of the London ESF.
Born 7 May 1946 (1946-05-07) (age 65)
Harrow, Middlesex, England, UK
Occupation Children's novelist and poet
Nationality British
Period 20th century – present
Genres Children's literature; Poetry


Michael Wayne Rosen (born 7 May 1946)[1] is a broadcaster, children's novelist and poet and the author of 140 books. He was appointed as the fifth Children's Laureate in June 2007, succeeding Jacqueline Wilson, and held this honour until 2009.


Family and early years

Michael Rosen was born in Harrow, London. The family background is Jewish, "from the Jewish East End tradition" as Rosen puts it.[2] Rosen's father Harold (1919–2008) was born in Brockton, Massachusetts, in the United States to Communist parents and settled in the East End of London at the age of two, when his mother returned to the country of her birth.[3] While a member of the Young Communist League he met Connie Isakofsky, his future wife and Michael Rosen's mother, in 1935. Harold was a secondary school teacher before becoming a professor of English at the Institute of Education, London,[4] and Connie a primary school teacher before becoming a training college lecturer; she also broadcast for the BBC. Producing a programme featuring poetry, she persuaded her son to write for it, and used some of the material he submitted.[5] Their ancestors came from Poland, Russia and Romania.[2] Michael Rosen was brought up in Pinner, Middlesex, and went to various state schools in Pinner, Harrow, and then Watford Grammar School for Boys,[2] and, having discovered the range of Jonathan Miller, thought: "Wouldn't it be wonderful to know all about science, and know all about art, and be funny and urbane and all that."[6] Subsequently, in his own words:

... I went to [Middlesex Hospital] Medical School, started on the first part of a medical training, jacked it in and went on to do a degree in English at Oxford University. I then worked for the BBC until they chucked me out and I have been a freelance writer, broadcaster, lecturer, performer ever since – that's to say since 1972. Most of my books have been for children, but that's not how I started out. ... Sometime around the age of twelve and thirteen I began to get a sense that I liked writing, liked trying out different kinds of writing, I tried writing satirical poems about people I knew.[2]


After graduating from Wadham College, Oxford, in 1969, Rosen became a graduate trainee at the BBC. Among the work that he did while there in the 1970s was presenting a series on BBC Schools television called WALRUS (Write And Learn, Read, Understand, Speak). He was also scriptwriter on the children's reading series Sam on Boffs' Island. But Rosen found working for the corporation frustrating: "Their view of 'educational' was narrow. The machine had decided this was the direction to take. Your own creativity was down the spout."[7]

Despite previously having made no secret of his radical politics he was asked to go freelance in 1972, though in practice he was sacked despite several departments of the BBC wishing to employ him. In common with the China expert and journalist Isabel Hilton among several others at this time, Rosen had failed the vetting procedures which were then in operation. This long-standing practice was only revealed in 1985.[8]

In 1974 Mind Your Own Business, his first book of poetry for children, was published. In due course, Rosen established himself with his collections of humorous verse for children, including Wouldn't You Like to Know, You Tell Me and Quick Let's Get Out of Here.

Educationalist Morag Styles has described Rosen as "one of the most significant figures in contemporary children's poetry". He was, says Styles, one of the first poets "to draw closely on his own childhood experiences ... and to 'tell it as it was' in the ordinary language children actually use".[7]

Rosen played a key role in opening up children's access to poetry: both through his own writing and with important anthologies such as Culture Shock. He was one of the first poets to make visits to schools throughout the UK and further afield in Australia, Canada and Singapore.[7] His tours continue to enthuse and engage school children about poetry in the present.[9] In 1993, he gained an M.A. in Children's Literature from the University of Reading; he also holds a Ph.D. from the University of North London.[10]

He is well established as a broadcaster, presenting a range of documentary features on British radio. He is the presenter of BBC Radio 4's regular magazine programme Word of Mouth which looks at the English language and the way it is used.[11]

The English Association has given Michael Rosen's Sad Book an Exceptional Award for the Best Children's Illustrated Books of 2004, in the 4–11 age range. The book was written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Quentin Blake. It deals in part with bereavement, and followed the publication of Carrying the Elephant: A Memoir of Love and Loss which was published in November 2002 after the death of his son Eddie, who features as a child in much of his earlier poetry. In 2004, Rosen published This Is Not My Nose: A Memoir of Illness and Recovery, an account of his ten years with undiagnosed hypothyroidism; a course of drugs in 1981 alleviated the condition.[7]

Rosen has also been involved in campaigning around issues of education and for the Palestinian cause. He has written columns for the newspaper of the Socialist Workers Party (Socialist Worker)[12] and spoken at their conferences.[13] He has also stood for election in June 2004 in London as a Respect Coalition candidate.[5] He is also a supporter of the Republic campaign.[14]

Rosen was the subject of the BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs programme on 6 August 2006.[15]

He is currently Visiting Professor of Children's Literature at Birkbeck, University of London, where he teaches Children's Literature and has devised an MA in Children's Literature, which commenced in October 2010.[16]

In August 2010 Rosen contributed to an eBook collection of political poems entitled Emergency Verse - Poetry in Defence of the Welfare State edited by Alan Morrison[17]

In 2011, he collaborated with his wife, Emma-Louise Williams to produce the film 'Under the Cranes'; he provided the original screenplay (a 'play for voices' called 'Hackney Streets') which Williams took as a basis with which to direct the film. It premiered at the Rio Cinema, Dalston, London on April 30, 2011 as part of the East End Film Festival[18]

Awards and honours

Rosen was appointed as the fifth Children's Laureate in June 2007, succeeding Jacqueline Wilson,[19] and held this honour till 9 June 2009, being succeeded by Anthony Browne.[20] Rosen signed off from the Laureateship with an article in The Guardian,[21] in which he said, poignantly: "Sometimes when I sit with children when they have the space to talk and write about ... things, I have the feeling that I am privileged to be the kind of person who is asked to be part of it".

In summer 2007, Rosen was awarded an Honorary D.Litt at the University of Exeter.[22]

On 19 January 2008, Rosen was presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust and the University of East London at a ceremony held at the Institute of Education.[23]

On 5 November 2008, he was presented with an Honorary Masters degree at the University of Worcester.[24]

On 18 November 2008, he was presented with the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Literature) by the Government of France at the French Ambassador's residence in London.[25]

On 2 April 2010 he was given the Fred and Anne Jarvis Award by the National Union of Teachers for "campaigning for education".[26]

On 22 July 2010, Michael Rosen was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Education (DEd) by Nottingham Trent University.[27]

On April 5 2011, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate at the Institute of Education, University of London.[28]

On 20 July 2011, Michael Rosen was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters by the University of the West of England.[29]

Personal life

Rosen has been married three times, and is the father of five children and two stepchildren. With his first partner, Susannah, he had two sons: Joe (born 1976) and Eddie (born 1980, died 1999). His second partner, who he does not name, had two daughters from her previous relationship: Naomi (born 1978) and Laura (born 1983).[30] He had one son with her called Isaac (born 1987). Rosen currently lives in Dalston, Hackney, London with his wife Emma-Louise Williams and their two children, Emile (born 2001) and Elsie (born 2004).[31][32]


  1. ^ "About Me", Michael Rosen's official website
  2. ^ a b c d Michael Rosen interview, WriteWords Writers' Community, February 2006?, http://www.writewords.org.uk/interviews/michael_rosen.asp, retrieved 2007-06-29 .
  3. ^ Harold Rosen (5 August 2008), "Harold Rosen: A Rebel from the East End [interview]", Socialist Worker (Socialist Worker), http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=15688, retrieved 2008-08-21 .
  4. ^ John Richmond (4 August 2008), "Harold Rosen [obituary]", The Guardian (Guardian Unlimited), http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/aug/04/teaching.schools .
  5. ^ a b Leslie Steigel; Joyce Bainbridge (Fall 2004), "From Poetry to Politics: The Gifts and Talents of Michael Rosen", Language and Literacy (reproduced on the University of Alberta website) 6 (2), http://www.langandlit.ualberta.ca/Fall2004/SteigelBainbridge.html, retrieved 2008-08-21 .
  6. ^ Emily Bearn (16 November 2008), "A novel approach to the classroom", The Sunday Times, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/article5161225.ece .
  7. ^ a b c d Morag Styles (July 1988), "Authorgraph No 51 – Michael Rosen", Books for Keeps: the Children's Book Magazine (51), http://www.booksforkeeps.co.uk/issues/51/27198, retrieved 2008-08-21 [dead link].
  8. ^ Mark Hollingsworth; Richard Norton-Taylor (1988), "MI5 and the BBC – Stamping the 'Christmas Tree' files [chap. 5]", Blacklist: The Inside Story of Political Vetting, London: Hogarth Press, p. 104, ISBN 0701208112 (pbk.), http://bilderberg.org/mi5bbc.htm ./
  9. ^ See, for example, Michael Rosen tour highlights, Scottish Book Trust, http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/podcasts/video/michael-rosen-tour-highlights, retrieved 2008-11-26 .
  10. ^ Nicholas Tucker (20 July 2007), "Interview: Why Michael Rosen will relish being the Children's Laureate", The Independent, http://arts.independent.co.uk/books/features/article2783654.ece .
  11. ^ Word of Mouth, BBC Radio 4, http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/wordofmouth.shtml, retrieved 2008-11-26 .
  12. ^ Rosen, Michael (27 October 2009). "Michael Rosen: ‘Question Time has opened the door for the BNP’". Socialist Worker. http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=19404. Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  13. ^ "Ideas to change the world…Marxism 2010". Socialist Workers Party. http://www.swp.org.uk/party-notes. Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  14. ^ Republic | Our supporters
  15. ^ Desert Island Discs: Michael Rosen, BBC Radio 4, 6 August 2006, http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/desertislanddiscs_20060806.shtml, retrieved 2007-12-14 .
  16. ^ "Staff teaching on the Children's Literature/Children's Literature and Writing MA". Department of English and Humanities, School of Arts, Birkbeck, University of London. http://www.bbk.ac.uk/eh/programmes/postgraduate/machildrenslit/staff. Retrieved 28 January 2010. 
  17. ^ http://www.therecusant.org.uk The Recusant eZine
  18. ^ http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/newsandviews/festivals/east-end-film-festival-2011.php
  19. ^ "Rosen is chosen for laureate role", BBC News (BBC News Online), 11 June 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/6740389.stm .
  20. ^ The Guardian: "Gorilla artist Anthony Browne becomes children's laureate".
  21. ^ "The ups and downs of a story: As he bows out as children's laureate today, Michael Rosen looks back on the warmth and enthusiasm of his young audiences ... and the blank looks of politicians", The Guardian, 9 June 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/jun/09/michael-rosen-creativity-in-the-classroom-teaching 
  22. ^ University News, http://www.exeter.ac.uk/media/universityofexeter/webteam/shared/pdfs/universitynews/issue5.pdf 
  23. ^ Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen receives Honorary Doctorate of Letters, http://www.uel.ac.uk/news/press_releases/michaelrosen.htm 
  24. ^ Worcester News, http://www.worcesternews.co.uk/news/3817938.University_of_Worcester_graduation___Wednesday__November_5/ 
  25. ^ Michael Rosen, Latest news: November 18, http://www.michaelrosen.co.uk, retrieved 2008-11-26  (archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5cc8dOHY3)
  26. ^ "Michael Rosen is awarded the Fred & Anne Jarvis Award at NUT conference". NUT Annual Conference 2010 – Press Release. National Union of Teachers. http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/11237. Retrieved 18 June 2010. 
  27. ^ Michael Rosen receives honorary degree from Nottingham Trent University
  28. ^ [1]
  29. ^ http://info.uwe.ac.uk/news/uwenews/news.aspx?id=2016
  30. ^ Cassandra Jardine (21 June 2007), "'As teenagers, my boys read football programmes...'", The Daily Telegraph ; and biographical information provided by Michael Rosen on 19 December 2007.
  31. ^ Kellaway, Kate (27 October 2002). "The children's poet who grew up". (Michael Rosen talks about lone parenting, his new baby daughter - and the day his son died). The Observer. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/oct/27/poetry.features. Retrieved 17 July 2010. 
  32. ^ "From here to paternity: Tales from the labour ward". The Independent. 21 June 2006. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/from-here-to-paternity-tales-from-the-labour-ward-404866.html. Retrieved 19 July 2010. 


Further reading


Book reviews

News reports

External links

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Jacqueline Wilson
Children's Laureate of the United Kingdom
2007 – 2009
Succeeded by
Anthony Browne

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