The winners of the 2021 KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards were announced today in a ceremony hosted by broadcaster Rick O’Shea and shared online as part of the International Literature Festival Dublin. Since 1990, these prestigious awards have identified, honoured and promoted excellence in books for young people, and continue to offer a significant opportunity for national and international recognition of Irish talent. This year’s winners include a feminist re-telling of the timeless legend of The Children of Lir, a witty and engaging queer coming-of-age story, and a book of tales rooted in Irish Traveller culture.
Awards were made across six categories, recognising exceptional writing and illustration for young audiences by authors and illustrators who were born in Ireland, are permanently resident in Ireland or are citizens of Ireland. The winner of the KPMG Reading Hero Award was also announced, recognising a young person’s potential and celebrating their remarkable passion for books.
Galway-born author Deirdre Sullivan and Dublin-based illustrator Karen Vaughan have jointly won the coveted Book of the Year Award for Savage Her Reply,a haunting reimagining of the Irish legend of The Children of Lir for young adult readers. Judges praised Sullivan’s wonderfully lyrical prose, describing the book as ‘a tense and haunting tale that explores heartache, loss and forgiveness, while giving voice to a woman silenced for generations.’ This is the second Book of the Year Award win for the duo, whose previous title together, Tangleweed and Brine, was awarded the overall prize in 2018.
Kildare author Pádraig Kenny received this year’s Honour Award for Fiction for The Monsters of Rookhaven, a dark and immersive adventure that explores ideas of acceptance, tolerance and true friendship. Full of darkness and light as well as brilliantly realised characters, The Monsters of Rookhaven tells the story of a young monster who lives in a mansion protected from the outside world – until two humans stumble into her life. Judges commented on Kenny’s gripping narrative, which ‘draws upon established gothic and horror motifs in providing readers with an utterly original adventure.’
Former Laureate na nÓg P.J. Lynch is the recipient of the Honour Award for Illustration for The Haunted Lake, a picturebook that takes readers on a journey to a ghostly otherworld. Judges noted that ‘this tale of love, loss and perseverance is told by Lynch through words and masterful illustrations’ that transport the reader from the world of the living to the eerie depths of the town that lies beneath the lake. This is the sixth win for Belfast-born Lynch, who previously won honour awards in 2014, 1998, 1995 and 1990 and received the overall Book of the Year Award in 1996 for his artwork in The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, written by Susan Wojciechowski.
The Eilís Dillon Award is named in honour of the revered Irish children’s author and recognises an outstanding first book for children and young people. This year’s recipient is Galway-born Mincéir author and storyteller Oein DeBhairduin for Why the Moon Travels – an extraordinary collection of twenty folk tales from the Irish Traveller community – illustrated by Leanne McDonagh, a young traveller woman from Co. Cork. Collected and retold with passion by DeBhairduin, these are tales of giants, foxes and owls, of friendship, love and hunger, of famine, heartache and loss. Judges remarked that, ‘in these stories, this world and the otherworld are intertwined, the personal is often used to explore the universal, and storytelling becomes a means of making sense of our surroundings.’ Why the Moon Travels has also received the Judges’ Special Recognition Award, with the judging panel praising it as ‘a beautifully written and ground-breaking book, which celebrates and shares a rich tradition that may be unfamiliar to many readers.’
The Junior Juries’ Award is given to the book which receives the highest score from Junior Juries around the island. Since the shortlist announcement in March, children and young people in schools across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have read and judged the shortlisted titles, and submitted their ballot sheets to Children’s Books Ireland for tallying. The combined score decides the winner of the Junior Juries Award, giving children and young people a real way to participate in the awards and make their voices heard. The winner of this year’s Junior Juries’ Award is The Falling in Love Montage, Ciara Smyth’s brilliantly witty, clever and funny coming-of-age narrative centred on a young protagonist with a clear and distinctive voice.
And finally, the KPMG Reading Hero Award was presented to Dean Porter, age 11, from Drumfries, Co. Donegal. Dean was nominated by his teacher, Róisín Walsh, at Scoil Naomh Pádraig, who said, ‘As soon as I read about the award, Dean popped into my mind as he is one of the most avid readers I have ever had the privilege to teach in my more than 30 years experience.’ Dean has an extraodinary passion for books and reading, a passion that has seen him through the past three years during which he has been attending Crumlin hospital in Dublin. ‘Dean had a serious operation for scoliosis and missed school for a number of months,’ said Ms Walsh. ‘However, he kept reading and kept reading and when he returned full time to the classroom, there were virtually no gaps in his education.’
On winning the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year Award, author Deirdre Sullivan said, ‘It means a huge amount as a writer to receive recognition from an organisation like Children’s Books Ireland that does such necessary and powerful work for Ireland’s young readers. Savage Her Reply was a book that allowed me to interrogate old stories, but also to connect with them and the vast amount they still have to offer us. Aífe’s isolation from the world around her, her struggles with her mental health and the abuse she experiences as a young woman are oddly prescient right now.’
Fellow winner, illustrator Karen Vaughan said, ‘Being recognised by Children’s Books Ireland, an organisation that not only works relentlessly to instill a love of reading in children but champions Irish illustrators and authors is such an enormous honour. The experience of working on a book as fierce, tender, and human as Savage Her Reply is something I’ll treasure.’
Chair of the judging panel, Dr. Pádraic Whyte, said, ‘Congratulations to all the amazing illustrators and writers who have won awards today. This is an important – and wonderful – celebration of contemporary Irish children’s literature, a recognition of some of the incredible works being created for younger readers. This eclectic mix of material will inspire and challenge readers for years to come.’
CEO of Children’s Books Ireland, Elaina Ryan, said, ‘We are proud to recognise the excellent work of all our shortlisted authors and illustrators, whose work has comforted, excited and absorbed readers through an extremely difficult year. Karen Vaughan and Deirdre Sullivan’s retelling of a classic folk tale from a feminist perspective gives voice and power to women whose stories have not traditionally been heard. We are also especially glad that Why The Moon Travels, Oein DeBhairduin and Leanne McDonagh’s book of tales rooted in Traveller culture, is honoured with two awards; let this herald a new era of inclusion for all artists and be an inspiration to young writers in the Traveller community and other underrepresented groups all over Ireland.’
KPMG Managing Partner, Seamus Hand, said, ‘At KPMG, we’re really pleased to continue to support the Reading Hero Award. This year in particular, these awards are even more important than ever. With children out of school because of the pandemic, education was disrupted which reinforced our view that learning and literacy needs to be supported at every opportunity. I really believe that reading is the foundation of education and its importance from a young age cannot be overstated.’
The KPMG Awards and Junior Juries programme are kindly supported by the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Ecclesiastical Movement for Good Awards.
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