Christmas Reads on Today with Claire Byrne

Cloisim rud éigin! Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin agus Steve Simpson (age 0–3)

Leabhar deas simplí atá ann: this is a really simple board book about the noises Dainín hears in his home. Perfect for very young children, this book is a reissue in a larger format, useful for small hands, and forms part of the Dainín series. A bundle of 4 is available from futafata.ie for €30.

What We’ll Build: Plans for our Together Future by Oliver Jeffers (age 2+)

Oliver Jeffers’ work will already be known to many, and What We’ll Build will delight longstanding and new fans alike. A follow-up to Here We Are, which was written for Oliver’s son and was an overview of the whole world in one book, What We’ll Build is dedicated to the artist’s daughter, and takes the form of a conversation between father and daughter about the adventures they might go on and the hurdles they might have to overcome. Full of warmth and with vividly imagined worlds and characters populating the sparse narrative, this book promotes openness, empathy and imagination.

The Snowflake by Benji Davies (age 3+)

This is an instant classic of a Christmas story. A nervous little snowflake falls from the sky, anxiously wondering where she’ll land. Meanwhile, a little girl called Noelle walks home with her Grandpa, Pappie, longing for the beautiful lit-up Christmas trees she sees in windows along the way. When she finds a discarded branch and takes it home to decorate, the snowflake finds the perfect place to land, sparkling atop Noelle’s little tree. This book is bursting with emotion: the good humour of this little girl who knows she cannot have what she sees in shops and homes, the nervousness of the little snowflake as she falls, her joy when she dances with a whole flurry of others, and her pride as she finds her home with Noelle. One to treasure and a beautiful festive gift.

Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit by Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve (age 6+)

Bumbleford has been hit by a series of biscuit thefts. All the clues lead straight to the only roly-poly flying pony in town, and Max’s best friend, KEVIN! Max and Kevin are forced to go on the run. Will they find the real culprit before Kevin ends up in pony prison? This is the third book in the series about Kevin the roly poly flying pony, but reads well as a standalone. Reeve and McIntyre have a brilliantly unique sense of humour – this is a book about a biscuit-loving flying pony, after all, featuring cheeky sea monkeys and a pair of guinea pigs called Neville and Beyoncé. The writing is excellent and the illustrations are so much fun; another winner from this dream team. Check out Sarah’s website, jabberworks.co.uk for free downloadable activities.

Where Snow Angels Go by Maggie O’Farrell (age 6+)

Many listeners will know Maggie O’Farrell as a novelist and memoir writer; this is her first book for children. Where Snow Angels Go is the story of a snow angel made by a little girl and come to life to act as a guardian for Sylvie, as is the fate of all snow angels, he tells her. Sylvie, it turns out, is very unwell, and once she recovers, she gets herself deliberately into scrapes to try to summon her angel back. But only when she most needs him does he appear. Daniela Jaglenka Terrazini’s illustrations are painterly and classical with just enough whimsy to pull off the mischief of the angel, and the silver accents throughout combined with stunning scenes of night skies, forests and powerful waves make this book a very beautiful object for a child to find in their Christmas stocking.

Girls Play Too: Inspiring Stories of Irish Sportswomen by Jacqui Hurley, illustrated by Sinead Colleran, Rachel Corcoran, Jennifer Farley, Jennifer Murphy and Lauren O’Neill (age 7+)

Through twenty-five illustrated biographies, Jacqui Hurley bridges a gap in the history of sports by shining a light on often-forgotten Irish female athletes. Girls Play Too covers a wide variety of sports, all narratives being linked by inspirational themes such as determination, discipline and sheer passion. The illustrations accompanying each biography are a wonderful addition, and the diverse styles used at each turn of the page make for an entertaining and dynamic reading experience. A must-read for any young sports fan, bound to find there their new role model! Great for fans of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.

The Book of Hopes edited by Katherine Rundell, with contributions from more than 100 children’s writers and illustrators (age 9+)

Completely free for everyone to read online, this extraordinary collection of short stories, poems, essays and pictures has contributions from more than 110 children’s writers and illustrators, including Lauren Child, Michael Morpurgo, Liz Pichon, Axel Scheffler, Francesca Simon and Jacqueline Wilson.The Book of Hopes is also available as a beautiful hardback gift edition, with 23 never-seen-before stories, poems and illustrations. The collection is dedicated to the doctors, nurses, carers, porters, cleaners and everyone working in hospitals and some proceeds go to the NHS charities. Created in the UK early in the pandemic, this is a lovely collection for a child to dip into and my well appeal to reluctant readers, with its bite-sized chunks.

The Monsters of Rookhaven by Pádraig Kenny, illustrated by Edward Bettison (age 9+)

Mirabelle has always known she is a monster. When the glamour protecting her unusual family from the human world is torn and an orphaned brother and sister stumble upon Rookhaven, Mirabelle soon discovers that friendship can be found in the outside world. But as something far more sinister comes to threaten them all, it quickly becomes clear that the true monsters aren’t necessarily the ones you can see. Kenny is one of our most stylish writers and this book is compelling and original with characters you immediately care about, and perfectly matched illustrations from Edward Bettison.

Savage Her Reply by Deirdre Sullivan and Karen Vaughan (YA)

A dark, feminist retelling of The Children of Lir by the author and illustrator team behind the multi-award-winning Tangleweed and Brine. When Aífe’s sister dies, she is forced to marry her widower, the chieftain Lir. She promised to protect her sister’s children but Lir’s mistreatment drives Aífe to use her magic against them. Retold through the voice of Aífe, Savage Her Reply is unsettling and dark, feminist and fierce, yet nuanced in its exploration of the guilt of a complex character. This is Deirdre Sullivan’s tenth book, and her voice is so well suited to this ancient myth made modern, sharp and relevant.

Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran (YA)

When Lia, an idealistic queen, falls for Xania, her new spymaster – who took the job to avenge her murdered father – they realise all isn’t fair in love and treason. Their love complicates Lia’s responsibilities and Xania’s plans for vengeance. As they’re drawn together amid royal suitors and new diplomats, they uncover treason that could not only end Lia’s reign, but ruin their weakened country. They must decide not only what to sacrifice for duty, but also for each other. An epic fantasy romance for young adults, this is the debut from former bookseller Helen Corcoran. The world she builds is brilliantly believable and the story is pacy, with a love story at its heart that will hook readers.

Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle (YA)

Moa is fourteen. The only life he has ever known is toiling on the Frontier sugar cane plantation for endless hot days, fearing the vicious whips of the overseers. Then one night he learns of an uprising, led by the charismatic Tacky. Moa is to be a cane warrior, and fight for the freedom of all the enslaved people in the nearby plantations. But before they can escape, Moa and his friend Keverton must face their first great task: to kill their overseer, Misser Donaldson. Time is ticking, and the day of the uprising approaches. Irresistible, gripping and unforgettable, Cane Warriors follows the true story of Tacky’s War in Jamaica, 1760. Cane Warriors is so immersive – the reader immediately feels the heat and hears the voices of Jamaica and experiences the horror of slavery through Wheatle’s characters.