The Show Must Go On: how Scottish show children helped develop new children’s book

Scottish children have played an important role in the development of a new reading book for primary school children that centres around Showpeople.

The children, from Thorntree Primary School in Glasgow, which is one of the main schools for showpeople’s children in Scotland, were involved in reviewing and providing feedback on drafts of the book with Scottish Section Education Liaison Officer, Christine Stirling.

 ‘The Show Must Go On’ tells the story of a family of travelling Showpeople and their fight to defend their yard from developers. Released by education publisher Pearson, the book is one of a series of readers aimed at primary schools.

The book came about through the intervention of Christine Stirling following a controversial earlier book that seemed to perpetuate the tired, false stereotypes that have dogged Showpeople for decades, portraying them in a very negative light.

Christine was alerted to this book through a comment online back in 2019 and contacted the publisher to express her disgust at the storyline that was so detrimental to Showmen.

She then contacted Thorntree Primary School to see if the book was available for children there and was dismayed to find out that it was. In fact, it turned out to be in many Scottish schools. A call to Glasgow Executive Director of Education, Maureen McKenna, remedied that, as the book was promptly removed from all schools in Scotland.

Pearson subsequently withdrew the book and commissioned a replacement, sending Christine Stirling the first draft to review.

Christine promptly enlisted the help of Shona Heggie, Thorntree’s Head Teacher, and the school children to read and give their comments on the draft.

The Showmen’s children weren’t overly impressed. They were unhappy about several issues that they viewed as not reflective of the community, in particular leaving elderly relatives behind in the yard whilst travelling, and the implication that they were deprived materially and were envious of other children.

Christine Stirling also had concerns and fed back her own and the children’s comments to the publisher. She also suggested the authors contact Scottish Showman Dr Mitch Miller, a talented illustrator, academic and member of Fair Scotland, to provide more suitable illustrations.

Pearson, to their credit, listened and acted upon Christine and the children’s comments. When the second draft arrived – complete with illustrations by Mitch – it was much better. The children at Thorntree were happier about it and felt it was a more realistic representation of the travelling Showmen’s way of life.

The book was also reviewed by Showmen’s Guild National Liaison Officer Valerie Moody MBE who has recommended it as “a book that brings Showpeople and their lifestyle alive”.

So, thanks to the efforts of the Showmen’s children at Thorntree Primary School along with their peers and teachers, a story book is now available to schools that represents the community fairly.

And were it not for the efforts of Christine Stirling in contacting the publisher and getting the original book taken out of schools in Scotland, the original book would still be in circulation, promoting a negative view of Showmen and the fairground.

Written by Richard O’Neill and Michelle Russell, with illustrations by Mitch Miller, ‘The Show Must Go On’ was published in June 2021 as part of the Bug Club Independent Reading series for schools and is aimed at Year 2 children.

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