Michael Rosen

Michael Wayne Rosen (born 7 May 1946)[1] is an English children's novelist, poet, and the author of 140 books. He served as Children's Laureate from June 2007 to June 2009.[2] He has been a TV presenter and a political columnist.

Michael Rosen
Rosen in December 2017
BornMichael Wayne Rosen
(1946-05-07) 7 May 1946
Harrow, Middlesex, England
Alma materMiddlesex Hospital Medical School (dropped out)
Wadham College, Oxford (BA)
University of Reading (MA)
University of North London (PhD)
GenreChildren's literature
Children's poetry
SpouseEmma-Louise Williams
Children5 (1 deceased)
ParentsHarold Rosen
Connie Isakofsky


Early life

Michael Wayne Rosen[3] was born into a Jewish family in Harrow, Middlesex,[4] with roots in what is now Poland, Russia, and Romania[4] and connections to the Arbeter Ring and the Bund.[5] Rosen's middle name is in honour of Wayne C. Booth, who was billeted with his father at the US army university in Shrivenham, Oxfordshire, and became a literary critic, writing a "seminal" book about the modern novel, The Rhetoric of Fiction.[3]

His father Harold (1919–2008) was born in Brockton, Massachusetts, but grew up in the East End of London from the age of two, when his mother left Harold's father and returned to Britain.[6] He attended Davenant Foundation School and then Regent Street Polytechnic.[5] Harold was a secondary school teacher before becoming a professor of English at the Institute of Education in London, and publishing extensively, especially on the teaching of English to children.[7]

His mother was Connie (née Isakofsky) Rosen (1920-1976). She attended Central Foundation Girls' School, then in Spital Square, where she made friends such as Bertha Sokoloff, who went on to lead a significant rent strike. Connie worked as a secretary at the Daily Worker, and later as a primary school teacher and then a training college lecturer. Both members of the Young Communist League, Harold and Connie met in 1935, aged 15. They participated in the Battle of Cable Street together. As a young couple, they settled in Pinner, Middlesex. They eventually left the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1957. Michael never joined, but this background influenced his childhood, for example his father's acquaintance (through his mother) with the bohemian literary figure Beatrice Hastings made an impression on him as a child.[5][8]

At around the age of 11, Michael Rosen began attending Harrow Weald County Grammar School.[9]

Rosen attended state schools in Pinner and Harrow, and Watford Grammar School for Boys.[4] Having discovered the range of Jonathan Miller, he thought "wouldn't it be wonderful to know all about science, and know all about art, and be funny and urbane and all that".[10] His mother was by this time working for the BBC. Producing a programme featuring poetry, she persuaded her son to write for it, and used some of the material he submitted.[11] 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.[4]


Early career

After his studies at Wadham College, Oxford, and graduation 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."[12]

Despite previously having made no secret of his radical left-wing politics when he was originally interviewed for a BBC post, 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, and by the time Rosen requested access to his files, they had been destroyed.[13]

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" and 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".[12]

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.[12] His tours continue to enthuse and engage school children about poetry in the present.[14]

We're Going on a Bear Hunt is a children's novel written by Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. The book won the overall Nestlé Smarties Book Prize in 1989 and also won the 0–5 years category.[15] The publisher, Walker Books, celebrated the Work's 25th anniversary in 2014 by breaking a Guinness World Record for the 'Largest Reading Lesson'.[16]

Since 1990

In 1993, Rosen gained an MA in Children's Literature from the University of Reading. He holds a PhD from the University of North London.[17]

Rosen 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.[18]

The English Association gave Michael Rosen's Sad Book (2004) an Exceptional Award for the Best Children's Illustrated Books of its year 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 (aged 18), who features as a child in much of his earlier poetry.[19] Rosen's This Is Not My Nose: A Memoir of Illness and Recovery (2004), is an account of his ten years with undiagnosed hypothyroidism; a course of drugs in 1981 alleviated the condition.[12]

Rosen has been involved in campaigning around issues of education and for the Palestinian cause. 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.[20] He has written columns for the Socialist Worker newspaper[21] and spoken at conferences organised by the Socialist Workers Party,[22] but has never been a party member. He stood for election in June 2004 in London as a Respect Coalition candidate.[11] He is a supporter of the Republic campaign.[23]

Later, the YouTube Poop community started making YouTube Poops on videos uploaded to Michael's channel by his son Joe Rosen. Commenting on the phenomenon, he tweeted: "Some are very funny and innocent, some are obscene, some are defamatory, some are racist, some are anti-semitic."[24] While Rosen said he was "fond of the funny ones", he said that he has "tried to get the racist, antisemitic ones taken down".[25]

In 2011, he collaborated with his wife, Emma-Louise Williams, to produce the film Under the Cranes,[26] with Rosen providing 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 30 April 2011 as part of the East End Film Festival.[27]

Rosen has previously taught children's literature on the MA in education studies at the University of North London and its successor institution, London Metropolitan University.[17][28] He was formerly a visiting professor of children's literature at Birkbeck, University of London,[29] where he taught children's literature, and devised an MA in children's literature, which commenced in October 2010. Since September 2014 he has been at Goldsmiths, University of London as professor of children's literature in the Department of Educational Studies, teaching an MA in children's literature.[30]

He is also a patron of the Shakespeare Schools Festival, a charity that enables school children across the UK to perform Shakespeare in professional theatres.[31]

Rosen was the subject of the BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs programme on 6 August 2006.[32]

The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership

In August 2015, Rosen endorsed Jeremy Corbyn's campaign in the Labour Party leadership election,[33] Rosen contributed to Poets for Corbyn, an anthology of poems "featuring 20 writers".[34][35] In the same month, he was a signatory to a letter criticising The Jewish Chronicle's reporting of Corbyn's association with alleged antisemites.[36] In 2016, along with others, he toured the UK to support Corbyn's bid to become Prime Minister.[37][38]

In November 2019, along with other public figures, Rosen signed a letter supporting Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn describing him as "a beacon of hope in the struggle against emergent far-right nationalism, xenophobia and racism in much of the democratic world" and endorsed him for in the 2019 UK general election.[39] In December 2019, along with 42 other leading cultural figures, he signed a letter endorsing the Labour Party under Corbyn's leadership in the 2019 general election. The letter stated that "Labour's election manifesto under Corbyn's leadership offers a transformative plan that prioritises the needs of people and the planet over private profit and the vested interests of a few."[40][41]

Awards and honours

Rosen was appointed the sixth British Children's Laureate in June 2007, succeeding Jacqueline Wilson, and held the honour until June 2009, when he was succeeded by Anthony Browne.[2][42][43] Rosen signed off from the Laureateship with an article in The Guardian,[44] in which he said: "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 2007, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Exeter.[45]

In January 2008, Rosen was presented with an honorary doctorate by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust and the University of East London.[46] In November 2008 he was presented with an honorary master's degree at the University of Worcester,[47] and the Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Literature) at the French ambassador's residence in London.[48][49]

In April 2010, Rosen was given the Fred and Anne Jarvis Award from the National Union of Teachers for "campaigning for education".[50] In July 2010 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Nottingham Trent University.[51]

In April 2011, Rosen was awarded an honorary doctorate at the Institute of Education, University of London,[52] and in July 2011, honorary doctorate by the University of the West of England.[53] Rosen was selected to be the guest director of the Brighton Festival in May 2013.

Personal life

Rosen has been married three times, is the father of five children, and has two stepchildren.[54] Eddie (1980–1999), his second son, died at the age of 18 from meningitis, and his death was the inspiration for Michael Rosen's Sad Book published in 2004.[19] Rosen lives in North London[55] with his third wife, Emma-Louise Williams, and their two children.[56][57]


  1. "About Me", Michael Rosen's official website.
  2. "Michael Rosen". Children's Laureate (childrenslaureate.org.uk). Booktrust. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
  3. Armitstead, Claire (8 September 2017). "Michael Rosen: 'Realising that poetry was performance was my eureka moment'". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  4. "Michael Rosen interview". WriteWords Writers' Community. February 2004. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  5. Rosen, Michael (23 May 2012). "Confessions of an accidental communist". New Statesman. Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  6. Rosen, Harold (5 August 2008). "Harold Rosen: A Rebel from the East End [interview]". Socialist Worker. Retrieved 21 August 2008.
  7. Richmond, John (4 August 2008). "Harold Rosen [obituary]". The Guardian. London.
  8. "Harold Rosen: Writings on life, language and learning, 1958–2008", Advanced Information, IOE, UCL.
  9. Bearn, Emily (16 November 2008), "A novel approach to the classroom", The Sunday Times.
  10. Steigel, Leslie; Bainbridge, Joyce (Fall 2004). "From Poetry to Politics: The Gifts and Talents of Michael Rosen". Language and Literacy (reproduced on the University of Alberta website). Retrieved 21 August 2008.
  11. Styles, Morag (July 1988). "Authorgraph No 51 – Michael Rosen". Books for Keeps: the Children's Book Magazine. Retrieved 21 August 2008. .
  12. Hollingsworth, Mark; Norton-Taylor, Richard (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 0-7012-0811-2; Leigh, David; Lashmar, Paul (18 August 1985). "The Blacklist in Room 105". The Observer. p. 9.
  13. See, for example, "Michael Rosen tour highlights". Scottish Book Trust. Retrieved 26 November 2008.
  14. Sprenger, Richard (10 April 2014). "We're Going on a Bear Hunt: 'The editors were so excited they were nearly weeping' – video". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 December 2016.
  15. "Walker Books & The RNIB". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 25 December 2016.
  16. "Chapter and verse: Michael Rosen on why it pays to study children's". Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  17. "Word of Mouth". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 26 November 2008.
  18. Rabinovitch, Dina (24 November 2004). "Author of the month: Michael Rosen". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  19. "Welcome". The Recusant. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  20. Rosen, Michael (27 October 2009). "Michael Rosen: 'Question Time has opened the door for the BNP'". Socialist Worker. Retrieved 7 February 2010.
  21. "Ideas to change the world... Marxism 2010". Socialist Workers Party. Retrieved 7 February 2010.
  22. "Our Supporters". Republic. Archived from the original on 31 May 2009. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  23. Rosen, Michael (@MichaelRosenYes). "A YouTube Poop - that is a mash-up of another YouTube vid. There are now about 4000 YTPs on YouTube of the videos that @J0e_R0sen makes of my poems and stories. Some are very funny and innocent, some are obscene, some are defamatory, some are racist, some are anti-semitic.". 19 January 2019. Tweet.
  24. Rosen, Michael (@MichaelRosenYes). "Some are very funny. Some are not so funny but funny all the same. Some are naff. Some are foul, racist, antisemitic rubbish. I'm fond of the funny ones. I have tried to get the racist, antisemitic ones taken down.". 19 January 2019. Tweet.
  25. Under the Cranes (23 November 2012). "Under the Cranes". Underthecranes.blogspot.com. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  26. "East London on film, East End Film Festival". BFI. May 2011. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  27. Michaelrosen (22 June 2012). "Michael Rosen: Why universities close down courses: my experience". Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  28. "Michael Rosen". Department of English and Humanities, School of Arts, Birkbeck, University of London. Retrieved 28 January 2010.
  29. "Award-winning children's author joins Goldsmiths". Goldsmiths. 4 November 2013. Archived from the original on 4 November 2013. Retrieved 24 December 2013.
  30. "Michael Rosen | Shakespeare Schools Festival". Ssf.uk.com. Archived from the original on 19 January 2013. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  31. "Desert Island Discs: Michael Rosen". BBC Radio 4. 6 August 2006. Retrieved 14 December 2007.
  32. Rosen, Michael (26 June 2015). "For Jeremy Corbyn". Michael Rosen's Blog. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  33. Bennetts, Russell (2015). Poets for Corbyn (PDF). Pendant Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9928034-5-2.
  34. Bennetts, Russell (25 August 2015). "Yes we scan: Poets line up for Jeremy Corbyn". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  35. Dysch, Marcus (18 August 2015). "Anti-Israel activists attack JC for challenging Jeremy Corbyn". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  36. "#JC4PM". jc4pmtour. 28 July 2015. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  37. Wilkinson, Michael (1 February 2016). "Celebrities to tour Britain in 'Jeremy Corbyn For Prime Minister' musical show". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  38. Neale, Matthew (16 November 2019). "Exclusive: New letter supporting Jeremy Corbyn signed by Roger Waters, Robert Del Naja and more". NME. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
  39. "Vote for hope and a decent future". The Guardian. 3 December 2019. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  40. Proctor, Kate (3 December 2019). "Coogan and Klein lead cultural figures backing Corbyn and Labour". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  41. "Rosen is chosen for laureate role". BBC News. BBC News Online. 11 June 2007.
  42. Flood, Alison (9 June 2009). "Gorilla artist Anthony Browne becomes children's laureate". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  43. Rosen, Michael (9 June 2007). "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. London.
  44. "University News" (PDF). Exeter.ac.uk. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  45. "Children's Laureate Michael Rosen receives Honorary Doctorate of Letters". Uel.ac.uk. 22 January 2008. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  46. "Michael Rosen talks about lone parenting, his new baby daughter - and the day his son died". Worcester News. Worcesternews.co.uk. 4 November 2008. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  47. Rosen, Michael. "Latest news: November 18". Retrieved 26 November 2008.
  48. "Michael Rosen's website". Michael Rosen. Archived from the original on 26 November 2008. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  49. "Michael Rosen is awarded the Fred & Anne Jarvis Award at NUT conference". NUT Annual Conference 2010 Press Release. National Union of Teachers. Archived from the original on 10 May 2012. Retrieved 18 June 2010.
  50. "Michael Rosen - NTU Honorary Graduate - 22nd July 2010". YouTube. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  51. "Alumni Life - Institute of Education, University of London". Ioe.ac.uk. 19 January 2009. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  52. "UWE Bristol: News". Info.uwe.ac.uk. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  53. 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.
  54. Durrant, Sabine (6 September 2014). "Michael Rosen: Why curiosity is the key to life". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  55. 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. London. Retrieved 17 July 2010.
  56. "From here to paternity: Tales from the labour ward". The Independent. London. 21 June 2006. Retrieved 19 July 2010.
Other sources

Further reading


Book reviews

News reports

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