Children need love because if we didn’t have love we wouldn’t learn how to love. … The Troubles have been part of my family history. My granddad was in the Order of Malta and he was shot at on Bloody Sunday. My dad was hit by a rubber bullet and it was very painful. My mummy and daddy used to hear a lot of gunshots. I’ve never heard gunfire in real life. I don’t think my mum and dad will ever forget about the Troubles but they don’t mention it.
When we were living in Africa, there was a lot of fighting all around us. When my mum was born and when she was growing up, there was a lot of fighting. When I was born there was fighting and it still goes on today. We never felt safe.(“My Nice Uncle—The story of Nyakim Ruach,” Donkeys Can’t Fly on Planes, Kids’ Own Publishing, Australia 2012. Selected for the White Ravens catalogue, 2014) [End Page 60]
Why should any society listen to children? How can we, as adults, support children’s individuality and their creative expression? How can we make space for children as active cultural agents within their communities and on a global level? In the words of IBBY’s founder, Jella Lepman, “Let us set this upside down world right again by starting with the children. They will show the grown-ups the way to go” (qtd. in Said). In its twenty-year history, Kids’ Own Publishing has turned the publishing paradigm upside-down to give a platform for children’s voices in two countries.
Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership, established in Ireland in 1997 and then in Australia in 2003, operates from a social change model that seeks to address what we perceive as a dismissal of children’s voices and their contribution to the societies in which they live, in Ireland and Australia. Kids’ Own strives to promote and give status to children’s lives and experiences through publishing and the arts. Founded by artist and printmaker Simon Spain and educator Victoria Ryle, the organisation evolved from a workshop model developed in the 1980s that provided a unique platform for children to make hand-printed limited edition books—long before the technology revolution. The ethos was about engaging children with a meaningful creative process through which they could develop a sense of agency and ownership and be active makers in the cultural field. This process involved the children developing artwork collaboratively alongside the professional artist through an open-ended and non-directive way of working. The name “Kids’ Own” was borne out of a desire to support children in owning their own work and to celebrate a rights-based approach to children’s cultural engagement.
In our view, children everywhere have very little visibility as active cultural citizens. From its inception, Kids’ Own has developed a disruptive approach to publishing by recognising children’s need to be seen and heard within Irish and Australian society and supporting the voice of children and, increasingly, marginalized communities of children in both countries. If children as citizens are overlooked and undervalued in terms of the contributions they can make as active cultural agents, those from marginalized communities have a double disadvantage—with voices that are almost completely silent to the ears of the mainstream.
Through the publication of children’s voices and experiences, Kids’ Own strives to counter the perception that publishing is the reserve of an elite few and offer an egalitarian context within which the artwork and writing of children can have the same status as that of adults. The insights gathered from children through a creative and meaningful process can be tender and poetic, shocking, humorous, or sad. In I Can Taste the Rain, Aaron observes, “The tide was out. The moon drinks the tide and spits it out.” In Bouncing Away, Tony says: “When I feel angry I stop smiling...