Itchy Coo Books - Publisher of the Month
The Perth poet William Soutar wrote that if the Scots Language is to come back, it will come on a cock horse. He may have been right but it seems to have come instead on a coo with an itch.
Itchy Coo has been making 'braw books for bairns o aw ages' since 2002. Its co-founders, Matthew Fitt and James Robertson, started with the aim of extending the provision of children's literature in Scots. In November 2008, they published Rabbie's Rhymes, the imprint's 32nd title in six years.
Together with publishing partner, Black & White, and with funding from the Scottish Arts Council, Itchy Coo has become the leading publisher of children's books in Scots, picking up major awards along the way.
Information about all titles mentioned here can be found at the Itchy Coo website http://www.itchy-coo.com/ . They fall into four clear categories: early learning, primary, secondary and senior secondary. For early years, artist Karen Sutherland's Katie range – a series of beautifully-illustrated, slaver-proof board books – has been tremendously popular with infants and their parents. Katie's Moose won a 2007 Royal Mail Award with one very impressed young reviewer enthusiastically giving the book 'ten oot o five.'
Resources for primary school readers include a counting book A Moose in the Hoose, Eck the Bee packed with language activities to keep young minds busy and A Wee Book o Fairy Tales which was transformed into a successful touring stage play by the TAG Citizens' Theatre in 2008.
Itchy Coo has produced some very well received translations into Scots of texts by Roald Dahl, AA Milne and RL Stevenson. The Eejits and Geordie's Mingin Medicine even managed to dislodge Harry Potter and High School Musical from the Number 1 spot in the bestseller charts.
The graphic novel version of Kidnappit crafted in 2007 by Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy the UNESCO City of Literature was given a Scots makeover as Kidnappit. This and many other Itchy Coo titles found their way not only onto the shelves of bookstores but also into superstores like ASDA and Tesco. Launched at its Govan branch with a media fanfare, ASDA marketed the imprint's Scots books in all of its 37 Scottish stores with the campaign slogan Itchy Coo Comes Tae ASDA.
Plays, short stories, novellas, non-fiction and a major Scots anthology make up the provision for secondary and senior level. The short dramas in Tam o Shanter's Big Night Oot have been performed by high schools all over the country and A Scots Parliament remains the only school text book on the history of democracy in Scotland.
Six years on and one of Itchy Coo's stated ambitions from 2002 looks like being realised. James and Matthew hoped that their imprint would kick-start interest generally in publishing Scots material. Fit Like, Yer Majesty? is a colourful anthology of Doric poetry for young readers. Published by the Reading Bus press – with sales of over 14,000 in its first three months, Fit Like, Yer Majesty? is a glowing example of the cultural and commercial value of well-produced titles in Scots.
Some in 2002 warned that the Itchy Coo project was a futile exercise. William McIlvanney wrote that there was little point in trying to rehabilitate the Scots Language. 'Forget it', grumphed Willie. Six years on Itchy Coo has just published its thirty-second title with the milestone of 150,000 sales well in the distance.
The other Willie mentioned already, William Soutar, made his comment about Scots coming back on a cock-horse in the 1930s and it would stand as quite a good mission statement for whole Itchy Coo project. Soutar saw clearly that Scots can flourish but only when children engage with it again as a medium for literacy and self-expression.
As well as book production, Itchy Coo has visited schools and delivered in-service training in almost every local authority through its Education and Outreach programme.
Thousands more children and adults are reading books in Scots now than in 2002. Teachers are finding that pupils can respond to Scots study in many positive and surprising ways with many reporting improvements in behaviour and attainment. It is hoped that educational policymakers will recognise this and at last accept Scots as a valuable learning tool.
The last word must go to the pupils of Nethermains Primary School in Denny which has been praised for its Scots Language teaching practice. Using a variety of Scots texts including Itchy Coo books, children at this school and many like it are being offered as part of the new Curriculum for Excellence meaningful reading and writing opportunities in a language that not long ago was forbidden in Scottish classrooms.
- I feel I have improved wi ma Scots language and writing skills. Noo I can write lang stories. (Regan)
- I enjoy writing lang stories more than I did afore. (Lorna)
- Writing has changed for me and I feel really confident. (Chantelle)
- Ma writing and reading hae improved. (Ciaron)
- The thing that has changed for me is that everything about me has changed. (Harry)