Shortlist Announced for the KPMG Children's Books Ireland Awards 2023

February 2023
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KPMG Children's Books Ireland Awards Shortlist 2023
The KPMG Children's Books Ireland Awards 2023 shortlist

A magical retelling of Cinderella as Gaeilge; wild and wonderous stories of adventure; tales of seeking asylum and Direct Provision; unsung stories of Ireland's mythical goddesses reimagined; and a gripping mystery which brings together two girls from opposite sides of Northern Ireland's political divide.

These are among the picture books, short story collections and young adult novels shortlisted for the 2023 KPMG Children's Books Ireland Awards, which were announced today by RTÉ broadcaster Rick O’Shea at the Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast.

This year's shortlist, which includes four debut authors, will compete for the KPMG Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year and five other awards, including honours for fiction, illustration and a Junior Juries' Award which will be decided by young readers from across the country.

A total prize fund of €16,000 will be awarded to this year's winners, who will be announced at a special ceremony at the International Literature Festival Dublin on Wednesday, 24th May.

The KPMG Children's Books Ireland Awards shortlist 2023

An Slipéar Ghloine, an Irish language retelling of the famous Cinderella fairytale, written by debut children’s author Fearghas Mac Lochlainn and illustrated by Paddy Donnelly (Futa Fata).

The Boy Who Lost His Spark, an atmospheric long-form picture book, written by award-winning author Maggie O'Farrell, and illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini (Walker Books).

One & Everything, a thought-provoking celebration of stories and written languages, written and illustrated by Sam Winston (Walker Books).

Be Wild, Little One, an uplifting picture book which explores the beauty of nature, written by debut author Olivia Hope and illustrated by Daniel Egnéus (Bloomsbury Children's Books).

The Wilderness, a colourful adventure tale of bravery and friendship, written and illustrated by Steve McCarthy (Walker Books).

Girls Who Slay Monsters, a collection putting strong female characters back at the heart of Ireland's ancient myths and legends, written by debut author Ellen Ryan, illustrated by Shona Shirley Macdonald (HarperCollins Ireland).

Run for Your Life, a moving and empathetic telling of a young girl's experience of seeking asylum in Ireland, written by Jane Mitchell (Little Island Books).

The Lost Girl King, a sophisticated fantasy tale which puts a twist on the myths of Tír na nÓg, written by Catherine Doyle (Bloomsbury Children's Books).

The Book of Secrets, a unique supernatural page-turner drawing on traditional Irish folklore, from debut author Alex Dunne (The O'Brien Press).

Truth Be Told, a young adult novel which explores family secrets, religious differences and suppressed sexuality, written by Derry-based writer and peace-worker, Sue Divin (Macmillan Children's Books).

Founded in 1990 and sponsored since 2020 by KPMG Ireland, the KPMG Children's Books Ireland Awards are recognised as the most prestigious awards for children's books in Ireland, celebrating the best of Irish writing and illustration for young people.

Children's Books Ireland, the national charity and arts organisation which administers the awards, has assembled an independent panel of expert judges for the 2023 Awards, including a Young Judge, aged 15+, and a network of Junior Jurors nationwide. 

'Year after year, we are blown away by the incredible talent in Irish children’s writing and illustration, and this year’s shortlist raises the bar yet again. The shortlisted books announced today represent voices from across the island of Ireland, drawing on some of our most ancient myths and legends and the diverse experiences of children and young people today. We’re delighted that our Junior Juries will have such a rich tapestry of Irish writing and illustration to dig into!'

– Elaina Ryan, CEO of Children's Books Ireland

At the announcement Seamus Hand, Managing Partner of KPMG Ireland, said: ‘We’re delighted to once again support these awards and to help promote the benefits and enjoyment children gain from reading from an early age. The quality of the shortlisted nominees is fantastic and it highlights the great writing and illustration talent that we’re so fortunate to have here in Ireland.’

The KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards and Junior Juries programme are supported by the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Damian Smyth, joint Head of Literature and Drama at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: ‘We are lucky to have a wealth of hugely talented writers and illustrators here on the island of Ireland. These awards recognise some of the most outstanding books of the last year – the picture books, stories and novels that have captured the hearts and imaginations of young readers. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is delighted to be associated with these important awards and offer our congratulations to all those who have made this year’s shortlist.’

A judges’ comment on each shortlisted title follows:
Girls Who Slay Monsters by Ellen Ryan, illustrated by Shona Shirley Macdonald

Girls Who Slay Monsters, written by Ellen Ryan and illustrated by Shona Shirley Macdonald

HarperCollins Ireland

This outstanding book brings oft-forgotten goddesses and heroes of Irish mythology out of the depths of an ancient past and into the reader’s present. Ryan’s wonderfully rich (and well-researched!) text and Macdonald’s sophisticated palate combine beautifully to create an innovative book that celebrates storytelling, curiosities, and female power. Firmly anchored in the landscape of this island, the book reminds us that these tales are forever etched into our hills and the valleys and the lakes and beaches; our mythic past is present in the everyday.

Run for Your Life by Jane Mitchell

Run for your Life, written by Jane Mitchell

Little Island Books

This compelling novel follows the story of Azari who ends up living in one of Ireland’s grim and inhumane Direct Provision centres when she and her mother are forced to flee their own country. For Azari, running – a passion she brings with her from home – provides her with a sense of power, confidence, and happiness, as she navigates the difficulties of a new life in Ireland. Respectfully written with wonderfully vivid and complex characters, Mitchell’s brilliant narrative is one of freedom and constraint, secrets and lies, hope and heartache.

The Boy Who Lost His Spark

The Boy Who Lost His Spark, written by Maggie O'Farrell and illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Tarrazzini

Walker Books

This remarkable and moving story of Jem as he tries to adapt to his new life in the countryside, is a refreshingly quiet tale about the necessity of having a little bit of magic in life. Unhappy with his lot, Jem begins to see his world differently when a mischievous little creature called a nouka makes its presence known. The calmness of the tale reminds readers that they are in the hands of assured and expert storytellers: writer and illustrator have created a special narrative that readers will want to revisit time and time again.

The Book of Secrets by Alex Dunne (9+)

The Book of Secrets, written by Alex Dunne

The O'Brien Press

This fast-paced story inspired by Irish myth and folklore brilliantly intertwines the real and the magical. Eleven-year-old Cat Donnelly has the Sight, like others in her family before her, and so is particularly open to all things supernatural. Set around Hallowe’en when the Trooping Fairies descend on the small town of Clonbridge, this is an exciting adventure with just the right level of creepiness – dark, but not too dark. There’s a real urgency to the writing, sweeping readers along through an original and imaginative tale of magic in contemporary Ireland.

The Lost Girl King

The Lost Girl King, written by Catherine Doyle

Bloomsbury Children's Books

This thrilling adventure story reinvents the world of Tír na nÓg and brings it to a new generation of young readers. When Amy and Liam head west for the summer to stay with their grandmother – a literature professor – their whole world begins to open up. They soon discover a waterfall that acts as an entrance to Tír na nÓg, the land of eternal youth – but something in this magical world has gone very wrong. In Amy and Liam, Doyle constructs such credible and marvellous characters who begin to realise the power and potential they hold within.

Be Wild Little One by Olivia Hope, illustrated by Daniel Egneus (age 2+)

Be Wild, Little One, written by Olivia Hope and illustrated by Daniel Egnéus

Bloomsbury Children's Books

This is a heart-warming and inspiring call to be wild, to be brave, to go out and meet the world. Expertly written and beautifully illustrated, this inclusive book brings the reader on a journey into jungles, across skies, into the deep blue seas, along snow-capped mountains, up to the rooftops, and through stormy skies. This enchanting picturebook demonstrates how so much can be said with just a few words and is a wonderful reminder of the life-affirming world that surrounds us.

The Wilderness by Steve McCarthy

The Wilderness, written and illustrated by Steve McCarthy

Walker Books

This fun and playful picturebook follows the story of the Vasylenko family as they head out to brave the wilds and search for adventure – well, all members of the family except young Oktober, who prefers to find his adventures in the safety of books. Until one day he discovers that maybe the Wilderness isn’t as monstrous as he thought. This original tale engages with the importance of dealing with your feelings and shows the transformative potential of a different point of view.

An Slipéar Gloine

An Slipéar Ghloine, written by Fearghas Mac Lochlainn and illustrated by Paddy Donnelly

Futa Fata

A refreshing take on the story of Cinderella, this Irish-language retelling brings new life to an old classic. Fantastic pictures and playful rhyming text work together brilliantly to tell the tale of Luaithrín bhocht, tormented by her sisters Smaoisín agus Straoisín, as well as by her leasmháthair Camilla, until the prince arrives with the titular glass slipper, transforming Luaithrín’s fate. Full of humour and wit, this is a book that readers will want to return to again and again.

One & Everything

One & Everything, written and illustrated by Sam Winston

Walker Books

The stunning and thought-provoking book can be appreciated on multiple levels as it brings the reader on a round-the-world journey through the importance of stories and storytelling. A meditation on language and script, on how we communicate, and on the perils of thinking that one single story is the most important story of all, this is an original and unusual book that – through text and illustration – celebrates the power of stories and the excitement they bring to our existence.

Truth Be Told by Sue Divin (Young adult)

Truth Be Told, written by Sue Divin 

Macmillan Children's Books.

Set in contemporary Northern Ireland, Truth be Told is a beautifully-written Young Adult novel full of distinctive voices. Tara and Faith are from different backgrounds and religious denominations but when they meet they realise that they have a lot in common – they look just like each other. As they try to figure out who they really are, they must delve deep into the past of their families and communities, uncovering secrets that some would prefer remained hidden.