Stories provide unique opportunities to explore how we understand ourselves and our worlds. Literature for young readers provides an especially vital role in children’s and young adults’ emotional, cultural, and imaginative well-being, particularly during Covid-19 and as we continue to recover from the pandemic.

A woman smiling for the camera
Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold

Funded by an RSE and Royal Irish Academy Ireland-Scotland Bilateral Network Grant, Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold collaborated with Dr Patricia Kennon, Maynooth University; and Dr Siobhán Morrissey, Children’s Books Ireland, to explore the impacts of Covid-19 on Scottish and Irish children’s and young-adult literature, cultural communities, and industries. Recognising that the cultural and creative sectors in Ireland and Scotland share many commonalities, including shared respect for the importance of stories and vibrant traditions of storytelling across multiple indigenous languages, as well as differences in their respective national policy, educational, and publishing contexts, their project supported an exchange of learning between these sectors.

As part of the project, the group founded Lionra: The Ireland-Scotland Youth Literature and Arts Network. This network member organisation comprises key literature organisations in both countries: Moat Brae – the National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling; the Scottish Book Trust; the Super Power Agency; Wigtown Book Festival; Children’s Books Ireland; Fighting Words; and Poetry Ireland.

Girl searching a bookshelf

Collaboration, community and acting as agents of change are at the heart of creativity and creative experiences for young people, with young people, and by young people. While access to, and availability of, local and national community and peer networks are important for all creators, they are key for supporting early-career and aspiring creators – especially for creators from socially marginalised groups – to support them to establish their careers and develop their professional practice. The group’s resulting project report demonstrates how community and community-building at local, and national levels, are crucial to establishing and sustaining authentic, meaningful collaborations, creative partnerships and intergenerational exchanges of perspectives between adults and young people.

While the pandemic isolated individuals and placed great strain on our networks, it also highlighted the value and importance of communication and of developing and maintaining personal and professional communities. In our focus group discussions with Scottish and Irish children and young adults, the participants discussed the importance of access to a rich range of stories as well as opportunities for creative play in their lives.

Dr Ramdarshan Bold said,

The interviews with Scottish and Irish arts organisation representatives and creators of literature for children and young adults highlighted the necessity of positive professional relationships between arts organisations and artists, and opportunities for formal as well as an informal networking and community support. Many of our interviewees identified the potential enabled by Scotland’s and Ireland’s geographical size and affirmation of community. Our network members also affirmed the benefits and opportunities of international collaborations for knowledge co-construction and idea sharing.”

On the future of the programme, Dr Ramdarshan Bold commented,

The Lionra network is flourishing and we intend to build upon this in future collaborative projects and to explore further opportunities for supporting and affirming Scottish and Irish creators, literature organisations, young readers and young creators.”

Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold is a Senior Lecturer in Children’s Literature Studies at, the University of Glasgow. Dr Patricia Kennon is an Associate Professor in children’s and YA literature and youth culture in the School of Education, Maynooth University, Ireland; and Dr Siobhán Morrissey is the Awards Administrator for Children’s Books Ireland.

Their report, Impacts of COVID-19 on Children’s and Young Adult Literature Creative, Cultural, and Reading Communities in Scotland and Ireland, was funded by an RIA/RSE Ireland-Scotland Bilateral Network Grant in 2021.