Native returns to his city

12th January 2007 at 00:00
Edinburgh gears up for a month-long reading campaign fuelled by Robert Louis Stevenson's ripping adventure yarn

IN EDINBURGH, the world's first Unesco City of Literature, the month of February is being "kidnapped" in the name of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Under the banner "One Book - One Edinburgh", more than 25,000 free copies of RLS's classic adventure story Kidnapped, suitable for readers of all ages, are being distributed to every school in the city as well as to libraries, reading and adult learners' groups, and community venues.

Pupils will be encouraged to read the novel, write about it, draw it, dramatise it, digitise it and map it, as Scotland's first city-wide reading campaign gets under way.

Kidnapping the hearts and minds of a whole city for literary and creative purposes is an ambitious project, but the Edinburgh Unesco City of Literature Trust is confident that the first Scottish "read" on this scale will be a success.

"We chose Kidnapped because it's a great book by a great Edinburgh writer and it appeals to both adults and children," says the trust's manager, Ali Bowden.

"By bringing the whole city together, reading one book, we hope to encourage reading."

Five separate versions of Kidnapped are being published to maximise readership. Three of these are free: a classic version with a preface by contemporary novelist Louise Welsh, published by Canongate; a specially commissioned graphic novel version by Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy (who between them have worked on a wide range of comic books including Judge Dredd, Batman and Star Wars), published by Waverley Books; and a "re-told"

version created for a younger audience, also published by Waverley.

Two more graphic versions are being published for sale - a modern text version for emergent readers, published by Barrington Stoke, and a Scottish-language version called Kidnappit by Matthew Fitt and James Robertson, published by Black and White.

"The graphic versions target boys between the ages of 12 and 16. This dovetails with the 10th annual World Book Day on March 1, which is focused on emerging readers," says Ms Bowden.

A Kidnapped activity pack is also being produced, with ideas ranging from guided walks around Stevenson's Edinburgh to puzzles, crosswords and craft, and interactive pursuits such as creating a digital story on the life of the author, making a comic strip, podcasting the story on school websites and making an 18th-century map.

Themed resource sheets range from "Wanted" posters and diary entries to dramatic adaptations of scenes from the novel.

"It would be ideal if every book could be taught this way," says Craigmount High's English teacher, Sylvia McLaughlin, who has been involved in developing the worksheets which can be downloaded from the City of Literature website.

"I wasn't taught Stevenson at school and I always thought of him as a boys'

writer. But he's far more than that. He deals with the fundamentals of human nature and he travelled the world, which is important today in encouraging students to be outward-looking," she says.

When Kilts Were Banned, a short play based on Kidnapped, is also touring city schools and community venues throughout February.

"We're presenting it in a humorous way to make it accessible to older children and young people," says Donald Smith, playwright and director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

"It's exciting to be part of this mammoth venture. Kidnapped is a fantastic story involving Highland and lowland history. It is about the repression of Highland culture - the banning of the kilt, the pipes and the language," he says.

Stevenson biographer Jenni Daiches agrees that Kidnapped is "an inspired choice" for the big read. "It's rooted in Scotland, in Edinburgh and in our literary history, and it's read all over the world. The idea of a large number of people reading it at roughly the same time is very satisfying,"

she says.



Set in 1751, the story of Kidnapped is the epic adventure of David Balfour, a 17-year-old boy who, in setting out to find his uncle, Ebenezer, never dreamed that there was a fortune that was rightly his, that he would narrowly escape being murdered and that he would be kidnapped but saved from a life of slavery.

Meeting with the Jacobite fugitive Alan Breck Stewart, and shipwrecked off the coast of Scotland, they witness the murder of Colin Campbell, "the Red Fox", and are forced to flee across Scotland to Edinburgh before David can claim his rightful inheritance.

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