Children’s Book Recommendations on Today with Claire Byrne

CEO of Children’s Books Ireland, Elaina Ryan, on books that will transport readers all over the world (and to other worlds!) for World Book Day on 4th March 2021.

In December, Children’s Books Ireland surveyed over 390 parents through research carried out by Behaviour & Attitudes. We asked them what they feel is the driving factor behind their children’s reading – why do they read? Almost 1/3 of parents of children aged 7–18 cited escapism as a reason their children read. Today our CEO has picked some of the most absorbing reads for all ages, whether they take the reader around the world, to another world or back in time.


Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

A perfect picturebook; published in 1963 and utterly timeless. Max is sent to his room without any supper for chasing the dog around the house, fork in hand, whilst wearing his wolf suit. That night, in his room, a forest grows and he embarks on an adventure, sailing a boat across the sea to where the wild things are – brilliantly original creatures who may remind readers unfamiliar with this classic of The Gruffalo. A ‘wild rumpus’ ensues as Max becomes the king of the wild things, eventually arriving safely back in his own bed. Visually, it is genius, as the illustrated world of the imagination gets bigger and bigger on the page, climaxing with some brilliant, wordless double page spreads showcasing Sendak’s brilliantly detailed and textured drawings. We are completely absorbed into Max’s voyage.

The Children of Lir by Laura Ruth Maher, illustrated by Conor Busuttil

A recent rhyming edition of this well-known story suitable for readers age 4+. The legend of the children of Lir, who were turned into swans by their wicked stepmother and forced to wander across Ireland for 900 years, is brought vividly to life by Busuttil’s illustrations. For much older readers interested in this story, Deirdre Sullivan’s Savage Her Reply, illustrated by Karen Vaughan, is a dark young adult retelling of the same legend through a feminist lens.

Hom by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Paddy Donnelly

When a boy washes up on a desert island after a shipwreck, he is sure he’s on his own in the world. But there’s someone else living there: Hom, a peace-loving creature who has lost his family, too. Alone on the island together, they learn from each other and become the best of friends. So when a rescue ship appears on the horizon, the boy has a big decision to make… Donnelly’s illustrations draw us in to this tropical island with its exotic birds, palm trees and even cave paintings.

An tOileán Thiar by Patricia Forde and Nicola Bernardelli

Fia looks out her window and across the bay. She longs to see the mythical island of Hy Brasil, which appears and disappears in the water every 7 years, off the coast of Galway. She slips out of bed, walks across a moonbeam and arrives at the island. She walks with magical creatures, dances with a host of girls and boys, and visits the bottom of the sea and the stars in space. Deeply rooted in Irish myth, and recognisably set in Galway city, this book is published in English as To the Island. Stunning illustrations from Nicola Bernardelli bring real magic to the setting of Hy Brasil and and pair perfectly with Forde’s text.

AGE 5–8

Akissi: Tales of Mischief, More Tales of Mischief and Even More Tales of Mischief by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Mathieu Sapin

Originally published in French, these three graphic novel collections of the Akissi comics are inspired by Marguerite Abouet’s childhood in The Ivory Coast. The plucky, mischievous Akissi and her brother are the focus of these funny, entertaining books which give us a glimpse into day to day life in Africa; the illustrations show us bustling village scenes with bright, vibrant colour palettes. The ordinariness of some of the stories appealed to me – there are madcap adventures like a sheep escaping from a bus trip, but there are also stories about childhood which may look different but feel familiar to children growing up in Ireland. Each book has extra material at the back with activities including recipes for foods like coconut morsels to take us that bit closer to the Ivory Coast as we read. Suitable for age 7–10 approx.

A Walk in New York by Salvatore Rubbino

Salvatore Rubbino is behind a series of 3 books (also featuring London and Paris) which are perfect for any fans of Miroslav Sasek’s work in the ‘This is’ series of world cities. A Walk in New York is half-story and half-non-fiction, with the narrative structure of a man showing his son the sights of Manhattan, but plenty of real facts, hand drawn maps featuring landmarks like the flatiron building and a stunning fold-out of the Empire State building to give kids an idea of the scale of New York’s skyscrapers. Every bit of this is like being immersed in the city, from the yellow cabs and Lady Liberty to the neighbourhood brownstones and the many languages of folks on the street. It’s the closest we’ll get to travelling for some time!

Tom Crean: The Brave Explorer by John and Fatti Burke

An excellent addition to the Little Library series from father/daughter duo John and Fatti Burke, sitting alongside Granuaile, Countess Marcievicz, Brian Boru and Mary Robinson. In this book, we travel with Tom Crean on his expeditions to the South Pole. The illustrations are so compelling and these inspiring stories are told in an accessible and easy to understand way for younger readers, as a very simple story. They start in childhood, bringing the reader closer to some of Ireland’s heroes at an early age, and including surprising details, like Tom’s pet rabbit having seventeen babies on Christmas day during an expedition, or the men playing ball on the ice. If you’re interested in this book, readers age 8+ might try Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill, a stunning picturebook with far more detail in Grill’s intricate drawings.

Alastair Humphreys’ Great Adventurers: the incredible expeditions of 20 explorers by Alastair Humphreys, illustrated by Kevin Ward

This award-winning illustrated book brings readers across the desert, into the jungle, underwater and even into space as we learn about twenty inspiring adventurers, including Ranulph Fiennes, Amelia Earhart, our own Dervla Murphy and many less familiar names. Told in comic book style and with detailed illustrated maps and diagrams of each adventurer’s kit, this is a brilliant way to explore the world from home and learn about the incredible journeys of each inspiring adventurer

AGE 9–12

The Storm Keeper series by Catherine Doyle

The third book in the Storm Keeper series is released this week; The Storm Keeper’s Battle follows The Storm Keeper’s Island and The Lost Tide Warriors and is as warm and unique as its predecessors, taking us back to Arranmore on the West coast of Ireland. Eleven-year-old Fionn Boyle first stumbles upon adventure and enchantment during a trip to Arranmore Island to visit his grandfather, and as well as being a story of friendship and family, the series is woven through with threads of Irish mythology and Celtic legends, great battles and magic that feels completely real. For an even more immersive experience, listen to the audiobook, read by the wonderful Patrick Moy. The first two in the series are available as eBooks on Borrowbox.

The Boldness of Betty by Anna Carey

Set in Dublin 1913 during the lockout, these are the (fictional, but thoroughly well-researched) memoirs of Betty Margaret Rafferty, aged 14. The Boldness of Betty features a strong-willed, authentic protagonist whose courage and pioneering spirit will be admired by readers. The historical detail is engaging and will no doubt be fascinating to young readers, bringing them back to a key period in history, made accessible through the eyes of the bold Betty. Shortlisted for the Senior Children’s Book prize at the 2020 An Post Irish Book Awards, The Boldness of Betty is available on Borrowbox as an eBook along with Carey’s previous pair of historical novels, The Making of Mollie and Mollie on the March, set in Dublin 1912 and focusing on the women’s suffrage movement. For other excellent historical fiction in an Irish context and with remarkable female protagonists, see Sheena Wilkinson’s three most recent novels, Hope Against Hope, Name Upon Name and Star by Star.

Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

In the snowy kingdom of Erkenwald, whales glide between icebergs, wolves hunt on the tundra and polar bears roam the glaciers. But the people of this land aren’t so easy to find – because Erkenwald is ruled by an evil Ice Queen and the tribes must stay hidden or risk becoming her prisoners at Winterfang Palace. Join Eska, a girl who breaks free from a cursed music box, and Flint, a boy whose inventions could change the fate of Erkenwald forever, as they journey to the Never Cliffs and beyond in search of an ancient, almost forgotten, song with the power to force the Ice Queen back. This is a story about an eagle huntress, an inventor and an organ made of icicles. But it is also a story about belonging, even at the very edges of our world.


Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Frances Hardinge is an incredible, award-winning author with a rich back catalogue to be explored. Deeplight is a stunning read, centring on the friendship of two street kids, Hark and Jelt, who scrape by on collecting and selling ‘godware’ from the sea, the remains of the underwater gods who lived many years ago in the Myriad. They’re as close as brothers until Hark gets arrested and sent away to a neighbouring island, and Jelt begins to change in utterly unexpected ways. This book is so rich and its setting in Lady’s Crave is such a singular world. Frances Hardinge is an extraordinary writer – her book The Lie Tree won the overall Costa Book of the Year Award 2015, the first children’s book to do so since Philip Pullman in 2001 for The Amber Spyglass. Her work is hard to define into one genre, and this book combines fantasy with a terrific adventure story and a totally believable world. Available as eBooks and eAudiobooks on Borrowbox – the audio edition is super.

The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness

With the first book published in 2008, the Chaos Walking Trilogy came out around the same time as The Hunger Games and ended just before Veronica Roth’s Divergent series began – peak dystopia, in other words. Again, these books are just so original, with a brilliant central conceit: Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. In the midst of the cacophony, Todd knows that the town is hiding something from him: something so awful he is forced to flee. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, Todd stumbles upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. As the books develop, we see the full brutality of war and the danger of leaders whose ideology is imposed on their people at all costs, ‘othering’ those they wish to oppress. Read it before you see it! Movie adaptation released this week.

The books are, in order: The Knife of Never Letting Go (2008) The Ask and the Answer (2009) Monsters of Men (2010). All three are available as eBooks and eAudiobooks on Borrowbox.

Railhead by Philip Reeve

When it comes to world-building, Philip Reeve is one of the very best. He creates unique, strange but completely believable worlds – listeners may be familiar with Mortal Engines, which was adapted as a major motion picture by Percy Jackson – and Railhead is no exception – in short, it is brilliant science fiction for older children, set in space, in a future where humans no longer live on earth and falling in love with androids is a possibility. Sentient trains can take you anywhere in the galaxy, and Zen Starling, our protagonist, is a railhead, a human thief who loves to travel on them. This is a pacy sci fi thriller, and Reeve’s other work is also worth checking out, from Cakes in Space with Sarah McIntyre (illustrated chapterbook for age 6+) to Mortal Engines (available as an eBook on Borrowbox).

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