Review also includes:
Thistle Street: a braw Scots story for bairns
Mike Nicholson, ill. Claire Keay, Floris Books, 32pp, 978-0863159107, £5.99 pbk
‘I depone aat I wull be leal and bear aefauld alleadgance tae her majesty, her airs an ony fa come aifter her anent the laa.’
Thus spake several members of the Scottish Parliament when taking the oath of allegiance at Holyrood last year, choosing to use Scots (or a recovered version of it), rather than standard English, as a proclamation of national identity. The resurgence of Scots progresses apace. Like English, it is a tongue which varies from region to region, town to town, and even suburb to suburb. The political question as to which of these varieties should be the basis of the written form is being settled in a creative, de facto manner by the flourishing of works from such publishers as Itchy Coo, who have pioneered both original children’s books in Scots, and translations of classics.
The Gruffalo is an excellent example of this process. The layout, illustrations and storyline of the original have been exactly retained. James Robertson’s translation of Donaldson’s verse keeps largely to the rhythmic pattern and rhyme scheme of the original, with some minor adjustments to accommodate Scots vocabulary and syntax. Young readers who love the humour and ingenuity of the original will probably appreciate the vivid and intriguing new perspective provided by making such comparisons ‘poisonous wart’ with ‘pizenous plook’, ‘roasted fox’ with ‘hot tod stew’ and ‘owl ice cream’ with ‘hoolet in batter’.
Floris books have also contributed to the growth in Scottish themed children’s literature through their Kelpie series. Thistle Street is an addition to the Picture Kelpies, aimed at younger readers. Claire Keay’s illustrations depict a cheery stroll down the main street of a traditional coastal town, meeting a range of characters, from a schoolboy on a scooter, through various independent shopkeepers, to a rather caricatural caber tosser. The rhyming storyline is in standard English, but 13 common Scots words are cleverly introduced as climactic end-rhymes, the meaning of each of them primed by the mini-story expressed in the verse. Several other Scots words and phrases are embedded into the illustrations as shop and boat names.
Both of these books are enjoyable in their own right for the stories they tell and the pictures they present. They are also very promising as attractive and light-hearted resources for raising awareness of language variation. In this respect, they deserve a readership extending far more widely than Scotland.