Young Scottish readers hooked on a fishy tale

STAND aside, the giants of crime fiction and the spell-binding charms of Harry Potter.

• Tiddler by Glasgow's Julia Donaldson has proved a massive hit with youngsters. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Tiddler, the story of a small fish with a big imagination, has beaten Ian Rankin and JK Rowling in a measure of publishing popularity.

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The children's picture book, written by Glasgow-based Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Alex Scheffler – the pair that created The Gruffalo – was the most borrowed title in Scotland's libraries last year.

Tiddler was the surprise winner in a list of library favourites generally dominated by thrillers from Edinburgh's Rankin and fellow crime writers such as James Patterson and Michael Connelly.

Tiddler may not have picked up heavyweight literary prizes, nor does it fill the front windows of Scottish bookshops, but the story of a little fish telling tall tales about why he's late for school has proved massively popular with parents and young children, and was the number one borrowed book in Scotland between July 2008 and July 2009.

JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in the Potter series, made 55th on last year's lending list. Love over Scotland, a Scotland Street novel by Alexander McCall Smith, managed number 33.

"Other than Tiddler there's a lot of crime fiction and thrillers," said Jim Parker, registrar of the UK Public Lending Right (PLR) system, which tracks loans and manages payments to authors.

"Julia Donaldson clearly has a big fan base north of the Border. We don't normally have a children's book at number one."

Library lendings appear to move at a slow pace compared to supermarket bestsellers, but Tiddler was borrowed 13,000 times in Scotland last year, the PLR figures show, and more than 40,000 times across the UK.

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It is crime fiction and children's fiction that seems to dominate the taste of library-goers in Britain.

Children's writer Jacqueline Wilson is a perennial favourite, while in UK libraries, Sail, by James Patterson the US thriller writer, was the most popular book.

"James Patterson writes to a very strong formula," said Mr Parker, collaborating with a group of writers who write up his storylines. "He can produce at a rate of knots and that's one way of keeping your loans up, keep the interest keep them hungry."

JK Rowling's weakness in the library stakes may reflect the massive sales of discounted hardback copies of her best-sellers, though her earlier books fared better.

"It will be interesting to see in coming years if she continues to be borrowed in the way Catherine Cookson was after she died," said Mr Parker. "You've got to build up loyalty in libraries over quite a long period."

In Scotland, Sail was number two behind Tiddler. Ian Rankin boasted three novels in the top ten, with Doors Open, Exit Music, and The Naming of the Dead.

A second picture book from Donaldson and Scheffler, Stick Man, was at number six.

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Authors are paid at the rate of 6.29 pence a loan, but can only earn maximum library payments of 6,600 a year. Linda Rooney of the Cowgate Under-5 Centre in Edinburgh said Tiddler was "a delightful tale that encourages the youngest of readers".


I like how Tiddler's quite naughty and tells lies about the mermaid

TIDDLER is really good. It's funny how the fish go to school. I like all the different colourful fish in it, especially the Gruffalo fish. Tiddler has adventures in it as well. I like to go on adventures so I enjoyed that bit.

I like how Tiddler's quite naughty and he tells lies but then one day something does happen to him and no-one believes him.

It's a bit like another story called The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

He was always late for school and he lied about it. He said he was trapped in a treasure box and a mermaid let him out. But that didn't really happen.

Then he really did get caught in a fisherman's net and no-one believed him.

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My favourite page was when you see the class doing their work. They were drawing a picture of a boat but they were under water. Their teacher was called Mrs Skate and I think she was a fish.

I've read quite a few books by this author. I've got some in the house but I got other ones from the library. When I was about four, Sharing a Shell was my favourite and I used to get Mum to read it to me all the time.

My pal Finlay, who is four, said he liked the fishing boat net. And he liked the fish with headlights for eyes.

• As told to Mark Smith.


1.Tiddler Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

2. Sail James Patterson

3. Doors Open Ian Rankin

4. Exit Music Ian Rankin

5. 7th Heaven James Patterson with Maxine Paetro

6. Stick Man Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

7. The Overlook Michael Connelly

8. The Naming of the Dead Ian Rankin

9. You've Been Warned James Patterson & Howard Roughan

10. My Sister Jodie Jacqueline Wilson

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