Michael Andrew Bridge Morpurgo, OBE FKC AKC (born 5 October 1943) is an English author, poet, playwright and librettist, best known for his work in children's literature. He was the third Children's Laureate.
Michael Morpurgo was born in St Albans, Hertfordshire, in 1943, the son of Tony Bridge, an actor. His stepfather, Jack Morpurgo, was a writer and professor of literature at Leeds University. His grandfather, Émile Cammaerts, was a notable Belgian poet and his uncle, Francis Cammaerts, a Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent with the French Resistance.
During the last years of World War II he was evacuated to Cumberland; he later moved back to London, and then on to Essex. He attended schools in London, Sussex and Canterbury (his unhappy experiences at boarding school would inform his novel Alone On A Wide, Wide Sea, one of his more famous works). When he attended The King's School, Canterbury, he was once described as being "rather stupid but great at rugby". He later trained for the British Army at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst but an injury cut short his military career.
Following an early job as a school caretaker, Michael studied English and French at King's College London, and went on to teach primary school pupils in Kent. While he was teaching, in his late twenties, he discovered his talent for storytelling, stating "I could see there was magic in it for them, and realized there was magic in it for me."
His writing career was inspired by Ted Hughes's Poetry in the Making, Paul Gallico's The Snow Goose and Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Poets Sean Rafferty and Ted Hughes were influential in his career, with Hughes becoming a friend, mentor and neighbour.
Morpurgo's work is noted for its "magical storytelling", for recurring themes such as the triumph of an outsider or survival, for characters' relationships with nature, and for vivid settings such as the Cornish coast or World War I. His ambitions for writing shows in all of his stories.
In 2009, he donated the short story Look At Me, I Need a Smile to Oxfam's 'Ox-Tales' project, four collections of UK stories written by 38 authors. Morpurgo's story was published in the 'Water' collection.
In 1976 Michael Morpurgo and his wife, Clare Morpurgo (the oldest daughter of Sir Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin Books), established the charity Farms for City Children, with the primary aim of providing children from inner city areas with experience of the countryside. The programme involves the children spending a week at a countryside farm, during which they take part in purposeful farmyard work.
50,000 children have taken part in the scheme since it was set up, and the charity now has three farms in Devon, Gloucestershire and Wales. In 1999 the couple were created Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in recognition of these services to youth. Michael Morpurgo was raised to Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) on 17 June 2006 for services to literature.
Morpurgo was involved in the development of the Children's Laureate award as, "The idea for the Children's Laureate originated from a conversation between (the then) Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and children's writer Michael Morpurgo." He was the third person to become Children's Laureate and held the title from 2003 to 2005.
Morpurgo has worked with a number of illustrators, including Quentin Blake, Christian Birmingham, Emma Chichester Clark, Michael Foreman, Shoo Rayner and Tony Ross.
Gentle Giant was presented as an opera by composer Stephen McNeff and librettist Mike Kenny at the Royal Opera House in 2006. Film versions have been made of Friend or Foe (1981) and When the Whales Came (1989), the latter also being adapted to a stage play. My Friend Walter (1988) and Out of the Ashes (2001) have both been adapted for television. War Horse has been adapted as a radio broadcast and as a successful stage play in the West End. Composer Stephen Barlow created a musical adaptation of Rainbow Bear, narrated by Joanna Lumley. This was subsequently presented as a ballet by the National Youth Ballet of Great Britain in August 2010.