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Posted by Nosy Crow, January 25, 2017

Burns Night: our Scottish authors and illustrators pick their favourite Scottish children’s books

There is a Scottish proverb that goes: ‘A tale never loses in the telling’. At Nosy Crow, we’re always game for a good story, and we all have our well-loved favourites that we re-read over and over again. And in honour of the books that shaped us, and in honour of Robert Burns and Burns Night, we asked a few of our Scottish authors and illustrators to share their OWN favourite Scottish children’s books and Scottish authors and illustrators. Here are their contributions:

DAVID SOLOMONS, author of My Brother is a Superhero and My Gym Teacher is an Alien Overlord: Peter Pan

“For my favourite book by a Scottish children’s author I’m going to go with a story about a boy who can fly. No surprise there. It’s Peter Pan. (Oh no it isn’t!) Panto favourite, Disney classic, and one of the great meditations on childhood (with pirates!).

“Read it as a child and you’re in a world of magic, adventure (and pirates!) – ah, to be the boy who wouldn’t grow up. Reading again in later life, as a grown-up with children of his own, that phrase resonates in a whole different way. There are a couple of different endings that Barrie wrote. Whether it’s Wendy at the window, waiting and wishing for Peter to come back for her; or Peter returning to the nursery to find an aged Wendy whom he can’t take back to Neverland… Oh my.

“Last words to Mr Barrie: ‘Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.'”

Here’s a look inside David’s debut children’s book, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize-winning My Brother is a Superhero:

Buy the book.

BARRY HUTCHINSON, author of the Benjamin Blank series: Captain Firebeard’s School for Pirates

“As a children’s author working in Scotland, I’ve been lucky enough to meet dozens of great Scottish authors and discover their books. From the dark and gritty thrillers of Cathy MacPhail, to the whimsical, yet often thought-provoking picture books of Debi Gliori, Scottish children’s literature is a rich and broad canvas, where some truly fantastic writers make their marks.

“However, there is one book so good that my seven-year-old daughter refused to leave our Florida hotel to go to Disneyland until she’d finished reading it last year. It was Captain Firebeard’s School for Pirates by Chae Strathie, and both my daughter and I give it a full four-thumbs up between us.”

Here’s a look inside the first book in the Benjamin Blank series, The Shark-Headed Bear Thing:

Buy the book.

ROSS COLLINS, author of There’s a Bear on my Chair: Robert Louis Stevenson

“It’s never a good idea to choose your favourite Scottish children’s author. Whoever you pick all the others will be scunnered (good Scottish word) that you didn’t pick them. Chances are they live not too far from me (it’s a small country) so they might let my tyres down or steal my dog while he’s tied up outside the supermarket. Scottish people are like that. I could pick my brother-in-law but then I’d be accused of nepotism and he knows how good he is anyway.

“Safest thing is to pick a dead person. Nobody can object to a lovely dead person – and nobody, not even my brother-in-law, should claim to be a better writer than Robert Louis Stevenson. Some of Stevenson’s lesser read works, ‘Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes’ or ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ still hold wee gems of humour and poetic writing. Stevenson’s donkey Modestine is one of my favourite donkeys in literature although to be fair it’s not a long list.

“However you can’t beat two obscure books called ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ – you may have heard of them. There aren’t too many books that are over a century old and still feel as fresh and exciting as these do.

“Stevenson wrote most of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ while feverishly ill in bed. The doctor’s transformation came to him in a nightmare which he called ‘a fine bogey tale’. My illnesses tend to only produce a great deal of phlegm and a Lemsip habit. Either way, this slim tale has been the source of millions of wonderful nightmares ever since. Who can resist the vague fearful descriptions of the mysterious Mr Hyde, half glimpsed down dark cobbled alleyways? Whenever I visit Edinburgh and the haar sets in from the Forth the city transforms once more into Hyde’s hunting ground – if you can ignore the tourists in their puffa jackets.

“‘Treasure Island’ is still just a wonderful adventure with some of the most iconic characters ever created. Long John Silver, Blind Pew and Ben Gunn obsessed me as a child as much as Gunn was obsessed with cheese. I’ve always loved a tale where you find yourself siding with the villain. Sure, you could probably rely on young Jim Hawkins to feed your cats and water your plants while you are on holiday – but who would you rather be marooned on an island with – dull Jim or smiling Silver?

“If you are too wee to read ‘Treasure Island’ yet then get a foot on the rigging with ‘Muppet’s Treasure Island’ – a furry classic:
‘Dead Tom’s dead! They killed Dead Tom!’
‘Dead Tom’s always been dead – that’s why they call him ‘Dead Tom’…'”

Here’s a look inside There’s a Bear on My Chair, recipient of the inaugural Amnesty Greenaway Honour:

Buy the book.

PAMELA BUTCHART, author of the Pugly series, the Petunia Perry series, the Wigglesbottom Primary series, and the Baby Aliens series: the Harry Potter books

“I’ve often heard stories of mums and dads sneaking Harry Potter books away from their children so that they can read them (and in one case unwrapping and re-wrapping a Christmas gift!).

“For me, part of the magic of Harry Potter is its potential to reach and be loved by the whole family.  Being able to share a book you love with a parent or older sibling (and it be genuinely reciprocated) is a very special thing.

“J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are the only fiction books my husband has enjoyed in twenty years! I hope one day we’ll be lucky enough to have children and I look forward to my husband sharing Harry Potter with our family (costumes not optional).”

Here’s a look inside Attack of the Demon Dinner Ladies, the latest book in the award-winning Baby Aliens series:

Buy the book.

ALISON MURRAY, author of Fairy Felicity’s Moonlight Adventure and Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten: Sandra Marrs

“My pick is for my favourite Scottish illustrator of the moment: Sandra Marrs. Originally from France but now Glasgow based, Sandra is the illustrator part of Graphic Novel creators Metaphrog.

“I loved the Louis books and am especially looking forward to her stunning work in their retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid out this April.

“I think her work is special because it blurs the boundary between what is a picture book and what is a graphic novel.”

Here’s a look inside Fairy Felicity’s Moonlight Adventure – available now in hardback:

Buy the book.

KATE WILSON (a.k.a. Birdie Black): Too many to just pick one!

“Well, I am not exactly a proper author/illustrator, and, arguably, having lived in England for 34 years, not exactly a proper Scot, but a list of my favourite children’s books either written or illustrated by Scots would include, from my own childhood, Mollie Hunter’s ‘A Sound of Chariots’ (Lord, I loved that book); Allan Campbell McLean’s ‘The Hill of the Red Fox’; George McDonald’s ‘The Princess and the Goblin’ and, from my children’s childhoods, every single one of the Katie Morag books by Mairi Hedderwick.  I claim Kenneth Grahame as a Scottish writer (he lived there until he was five), so ‘The Wind in the Willows’ makes it under the wire.”

Sláinte Mhath! Or in other words: Happy Burns Night, everyone!

We’d love to hear your favourite Scottish children’s books, authors and illustrators – do let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter!