Stick mannie’s lanely, Stick Mannie’s lost Stick Mannie’s frozen, all happit wi frost Stick Mannie’s wabbit – a snooze wid be braw.

Gantin, he streeks himsel oot in the snaw.”

SO is the winter of discontent for Stick Mannie, the unfortunate protagonist at the heart of Scottish novelist James Roberton’s latest work. Our poor hero – a stick that lives and breathes and runs aboot the place – is taken on an unwilling adventure throughout the pages of Stick Mannie, a new Scots translation of Julia Donaldson’s 2008 children’s book, Stick Man.

Stick Mannie is a pleasure to read. Like all of Donaldson’s books, it is beautifully illustrated and the story skips along in joyful rhyme. The Scots version rings new resonances out for Scottish readers, and adds to the endearing main character.

James summed up the result as being “like Tam O’ Shanter but for very young readers. It’s a brilliant narrative poem.”

As with all Donaldson stories, Stick Mannie has depths. “There’s great pathos in it,” Robertson says. “There’s really sad moments. She has ye feeling sorry for a stick, which is quite an achievement!”

Stick Mannie is just the latest in a long line of Scots translations by James Robertson and his old pal Mathew Fitt, who publish through imprint Itchy Coo. The pair have been putting out work through Itchy Coo since 2002, with more than 80 titles released to date.

This is James’ seventh Scots version of a Julia Donaldson book, with that author’s work being some of the most popular Scots bairns’ books in existence.

The National: James Robertson loves the ‘lightbulb moments’ he sees with children James Robertson loves the ‘lightbulb moments’ he sees with children (Image: unknown)

Chatting this week from his home in Angus, James recalled how it was Julia – the multi-million selling superstar author of The Gruffalo herself – that first set him on the path to Stick Mannie.

“I bumped into [Julia Donaldson] at a book festival. She’d noticed that Itchy Coo had put out Scots versions of Roald Dahl books, and she said that I should do one of hers!”

James jumped at the chance, and decided to first attempt a Scots version of The Gruffalo.

The seemingly simple rhymes of the original did not fall easily into place, however. “Ye’ve got to turn the hail thing inside oot tae mak it work in Scots,” Robertson says. “Ye’ve to maintain the rhythms and rhymes in the original.”

He adds: “I finally cracked it, and it came out in 2012. It was a huge seller for us. It still sells loads of copies in Scots.”

Itchy Coo have Robertson’s version of The Grafflo, which is in a general Scots, accessible to most. But over the years they have also produced dialect versions in Orkney Scots, in Dundonian, in the Doric Scots of the North-East, Shetlandic – and Elaine C Smith did a Glaswegian version too.

This has put high-quality, enjoyable and accessible Scots language work into schools and into the hands of bairns all across the country. James sees a similar future for this latest work.

2022 marks two full decades of Scots publishing for Itchy Coo, and for James himself. Over that time, he has witnessed really massive changes in attitudes to the Scots language, particularly at official levels.

“When you started out in 2002, the attitude to Scots in primary schools was way different to what it is now, [in terms of engagement of teachers and the educational ecosystem].

“We wernae setting out to save a language. Two people cannae do that. The only thing that keeps a language alive is if people use it and speak it. We wanted to produce books that would help contribute to Scots speakers being encouraged to use their language.”

But James has seen a “sea-change” in the last two decades.

“There’s a growing confidence in Scottish culture generally, and in Scottish identity. And something that’s fundamental to our sense of ourselves in the language we speak. And for so long, Scots was seen as inferior to English; historically Gaelic and Scots were specifically excluded from Scottish education. It changed for Gaelic some decades ago, and it’s now beginning to shift for Scots as well.”

This is born out in wider Scottish society. The National Library of Scotland, for example, just announced their fourth Scots Scriever, a role which promotes written modern and historical Scots.

The universities of Aberdeen and Glasgow each have a module for undergraduates to study Scots as a foreign language, and short courses for the general public to learn more about Scots and its cultural hinterland.

At the Scots Language Awards last weekend, schools and teachers from across Scotland were recognised for the work they are doing making sure Scots is a living language in our curriculums.

Itchy Coo has had a hand in all of that, by ensuring so many good Scots books are available to learners of all ages.

But for all these reasons to be cheerful, James is under no illusions about the health of Scots in modern Scotland.

“Scots, like other languages, is tremendously vulnerable now like never before with the rise of these immensely powerful global languages – English, Spanish, Chinese etc. Scots is additionally vulnerable as it is so close to English.

“As we see a very positive shift in attitudes towards Scots, we have to be aware that we’re constantly losing vocabulary, the language is constantly being diluted, it’s really vulnerable.

“The Scots used today is often quite diluted compared to the 60s or 70s. That process is sped up by the power that English has compared to Scots.”

But James has aye kept up his pairt o the fecht fir Scots, despite the seeming difficulty of the cause.

What has kept James going with promoting Scots, he tells us, are the “lightbulb moments” he experiences in classrooms: “When ye see bairns clicking and understanding the difference between Scots and English. Fae now on, those young folk will have a different attitude to the language that they hear. Ye cannae undo that moment of recognition.”

And as for Stick Mannie, his ambitions for it are both humble, and yet radical.

“What I really hope is that bairns pick it up and go, ‘Whits this, I ken Stick Man, but whit’s Stick Mannie?’ I really hope they find it funny, and they enjoy it, and maybe see it as, ‘Here’s ma language written doon!’ And that can be the start of something transformative.”

James Robertson writes books for both adults and children. His novel The Testament Of Gideon Mack was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2006 and his most recent novel, News Of The Dead, won the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction in 2022 Stick Mannie: Stick Man in Scots was published on October 13is available now