Read this - or walk the plank

8th February 2008 at 00:00
Dollar Academy has published its own edition of 'Treasure Island' and created a captive audience throughout the school. Su Clark reports,.

Frances Breslin clasps her action doll of Nancy Pearl close to her chest, still in perfect condition in its packaging. You can see it has been opened, but only, the Dollar Academy librarian admits, to try the "push-to-shush" action.

Dressed sombrely in a blue suit, sporty glasses and neat short hair, the doll looks more like a librarian than Miss Breslin does. But Nancy's attire belies the phenomenal influence she's had on more than one country and, particularly, on Dollar Academy.

Last term, Dollar became the first school in the UK to run a project it called "One Book, One Dollar". It was based on the idea pioneered by Nancy Pearl, a librarian at the Washington Center for the Book in Seattle, US. The "If All Seattle Read The Same Book" project of 1998 got thousands of people reading The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks, fulfilling its aim of broadening and deepening appreciation of literature through reading and discussion.

Chicago followed with Harper Lee's American classic To Kill a Mockingbird, and hundreds of thousands of books have since been read by scores of cities. Milwaukee read Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, California distributed copies of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and Los Angeles got stuck into Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Last year, Edinburgh took up the challenge, distributing three different versions of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, including a graphic novel by Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy. This month it is determined to get thousands reading Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (see last week's TESS).

In the run-up to its Aye Write! festival next month, Glasgow distributed 15,000 copies of From Glasgow to Saturn by Edwin Morgan, following the success of its inaugural project last year, when it handed out as many copies of Small Island by Andrea Levy.

Dollar Academy's goal was more modest, but still remarkable for a school, even an independent school where parents of day pupils pay pound;8,500 a year. It had 3,000 of its own version of Treasure Island printed at a cost of pound;5,343. The cover, designed and illustrated by design teacher Peter Nelson, features headteacher John Robertson as Long John Silver, while the parrot on his shoulder strangely resembles the deputy, Geoff Daniel. In the background, the "Dollar" ship overshadows the "Hispaniola". The black and white illustrations inside were by art teacher Angus Maclean.

Every pupil, teacher and governor was given a copy, and former pupils have been phoning from around the UK to request them. All money raised is going to the charity committee. "We chose Treasure Island because it is accessible on so many levels," says Miss Breslin. "It can appeal to all our pupils, aged five to 18. It is available as a graphic novel and as a film, as well as many different versions."

Having their own version has certainly got the pupils talking about the book, but the project is much more than simply giving them their own copy. The theme has percolated through the whole curriculum. "It doesn't have to be that expensive a project," says Miss Breslin. "We chose to produce a book but the rest of the project has minimal costs. What is important is to have it spread through the whole school, so that everyone is talking about."

"Then they might actually go and read about it," adds Kate Murray, chair of English, who has been spearheading the project with Miss Breslin. "But you have to get all the teachers on board, so that it makes an impact."

The annual third-year biology field trip to the island of Inchcailloch on Loch Lomond will feature a biology treasure hunt. Second-year pupils in chemistry have been trying "by means most devious and cunning" to turn base metal into gold doubloons. History and modern studies lessons have been steeped in piracy and the trade in human cargo; economics has concentrated on how to find basic resources to survive on an uninhabited island; geography lessons have been dominated by creating treasure island maps and home economics has been doing a project on fish and shells.

The junior pupils are learning sea shanties, practising for their musical, The Pirates of Penzance, and studying Stevenson as a famous Scot. The annual teddy bears' picnic, organised by the sixth-years for the youngest pupils at the prep school is to have a pirate theme.

It took Miss Breslin 10 days to organise the publication of Dollar's Treasure Island, from choosing the paper quality to tracking down the right typeface to cajoling the illustrator and the designer to produce the artwork on time to proof-reading the whole book.

Over the next two terms, Treasure Island will touch every pupil and teacher in the school, and maybe some of those who never would have picked it up, will read it.

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