Who Needs Stories Most? U.Va. Student Helped Award-Winning Irish Author Decide

September 25, 2014

Mirenda Gwin is a fourth-year Echols Scholar from Vinton. A history and media studies double major, she is writing a thesis on modern American legal history. Gwin traveled to Dublin, Ireland, this summer through the Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life intern program. This is a first-person account of her time in Ireland.

I had a glancing brush with fame this summer while studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland. I wasn’t fortunate enough to see any leprechauns or lucky enough to find out if there really is a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. Instead, I had the good fortune to work with the author of the “Artemis Fowl” books, a best-selling line of young adult fantasy novels that has inspired Walt Disney Studios and the Weinstein Company to create a Hollywood film around the series.

I got connected to author Eoin Colfer, Ireland’s Children’s Laureate, through my work at Children’s Books Ireland, an organization that fosters a love and appreciation of the written word, promotes local Irish authors and works to keep alive the traditional Irish language, Gaelic.

The third children’s laureate to be named by the organization, Colfer is charged with setting out a mission for his two-year term. Entitled “Once Upon a Place,” his storytelling goal is to bring stories to every corner of Ireland, especially to kids who would not usually get to meet a famous author.

“I intend to spend my time spreading stories to every nook and cranny in the country. Nobody is safe. It doesn’t matter where you hide – I will find you and tell you a story,” he warned in May when his tenure was announced. Colfer said he was especially interested in reaching children from poor or rural parts of Ireland, especially from the north, in places like County Donegal, a traditionally agrarian part of the country.

This is where the ethical conflict set in. It was tough to decide which proposals merited a visit and which did not. Everyone at the organization wanted to say “yes” to the hundreds of requests for appearances, but time and funding limited our decisions. Which groups of children deserve to hear Colfer? What economically disadvantaged portion of Ireland most needed someone to promote literacy and a love of reading among young people? These were the sorts of questions with which we grappled in our discussions with Colfer, and these are the conversations that are continually held at Children’s Books Ireland.

In the end, the best-fleshed-out proposals were the ones we chose to fund. One incredibly cool opportunity will place kids on a steam train that will run down part of the west coast of Ireland, with Colfer sharing train-related Irish folklore.

Another event will be staged in an old Irish castle, where he will tell stories in the “Ghostly Garden” and in the “Terrible Tower.” I think that will be a great location for Halloween storytelling! I only wish I could be back in Ireland to hear Colfer tell these stories. Seeing the kids’ faces light up when they hear tales of treachery and turmoil that, in turn, make them excited to read on their own, is something that is so much better than stumbling upon a pot of gold.

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