The skill and artistry of Irish women writers and illustrators is being celebrated in a new exhibition entitled Story Spinners: Irish Women and Children’s Books, which opens this evening, Thursday, 8th March, 2018 in the Long Room, Old Library, Trinity College Dublin.
The exhibition offers a fascinating glimpse into the wealth of material produced for young readers over several centuries and forms part of Children’s Books Ireland’s nationwide BOLD GIRLS initiative, which seeks to celebrate strong, confident, intelligent, brave women and girls in children’s books. The initiative includes the production of a BOLD GIRLS Reading Guide offering reviews and information on books that feature female characters with agency, power and opinions.
Trinity’s Story Spinners exhibition includes items from Trinity’s Pollard Collection, which is the largest collection of children’s books in Ireland, comprising over 10,000 books. The collection, which was a bequest of Mary “Paul” Pollard, former Keeper of Early Printed Books at Trinity, includes books dating from 17th century to the early 20th century and has a special focus on Irish imprints, Irish writers, and books written for girls.
Marking the centenary of suffrage in Ireland, the Story Spinners exhibition highlights the central role that women played in Irish history, politics, and culture, including literary arts. There is particular emphasis on representations of strong female characters and the exhibition includes works from famous writers and illustrators such as Eilís Dillon, Maria Edgeworth, Eileen O’Faolain, Patricia Lynch, Norah McGuinness, Sinéad de Valera and others.
Winifred M. Letts’ 1907 novel The Story-Spinner lends its title to the exhibition. On the inside cover of the book there is an inscription by a young orphan girl: “Annie Faires is my name/ Northbrook Road is my/ station and when I am dead and in my/ grave and all my bones are rotten / This little book/ will tell my name / When I am quite/Forgotten”.
This little poem offers a wonderful insight into the concerns and personal history of a real reader in Dublin in the 1920s. It shows us how important this book was to Annie. The remarkable thing is that her little inscription worked – the book has told us her name and has inspired one of the students to find out who she was and to start researching her life.
The oldest book in the exhibition is Mary Leadbeater’s 1794 text – Extracts and Original Anecdotes for the Improvement of Youth, which is regarded as the earliest known children’s book written by an Irish woman and published in Dublin.
Other books include The Young Stamp-Collectors (1965) by Irish artist and suffragette Sophia Rosamond Praeger who was a member of the London-based women artists’ organisation, the Suffrage Atelier and A Wild Irish Girl (1910) by L.T. Meade who has been described as ‘the J.K. Rowling of her day’. The most contemporary book in the exhibition is Siobhan Dowd’s A Swift Pure Cry (2006), which is set in 1984 and draws upon the tragic events of the Kerry Babies case and the death of Anne Lovett.
Curated by staff and students from the Masters programme in Children’s Literature at Trinity, the exhibition runs from March to May 2018. An extended online version of the exhibition will also be available to view online later this month at www.tcd.ie/library/exhibitions/
“This exhibition draws fresh attention to the role children’s literature plays — and has played for hundreds of years — in empowering readers and equalising representation of women,” explains Dr Jane Suzanne Carroll, Assistant Professor in Children’s Literature, Trinity. “In such a significant year, it’s a great way to celebrate and highlight the richness of Irish women’s writing and illustration for children, to display some of the treasures held in the Library at Trinity, and to offer a glimpse into the diversity of female experiences depicted in literature for young readers across several centuries.”
Story Spinners exhibition will be launched by Dr Susan Cahill, Associate Professor of Irish Literature, Concordia University, later today in the Long Room, Old Library, Trinity. Dr Cahill will also give a public lecture entitled ‘Bold Girls: A Literary History of Wild Irish Girls’ at 5pm on Thursday, March 8th in Trinity Long Room Hub.
Dr Norah Patten, faculty member at the International Space University, who is on course to become the country’s first person in space, will officially launch the BOLD GIRLS initiative today also in Trinity’s Long Room. Dr Patten commented: “Representation and visibility of strong, brave, intelligent women and girls is equally as important for young boys as it is for young girls. If we strive for an inclusive society, we need to think about the messages we are sending to boys and girls, young and old. BOLD GIRLS is a celebration of the positive contribution that women have made over the years.”
Jenny Murray, Acting Director of Children’s Books Ireland, added, “Children’s Books Ireland is incredibly proud of the BOLD GIRLS project. When we initially came up with this idea it became very evident that it was timely. The role, perception, treatment and expectations of women and young girls are front and centre of daily media discussions. The project is designed to encourage young girls and young women to see themselves in the pages of fiction and non-fiction books, and to encourage them to go out into the world as brave, strong, bold, self-possessed young women. We also want to encourage young boys and men to see all the women and girls in their lives in this way, and to support them.”
Further information about the BOLD GIRLS initiative and reading guides are available here: childrensbooksireland.ie and good bookstores while stocks last.