January Reads on Ireland AM

CEO of Children’s Books Ireland, Elaina Ryan, recommends fun books to read while staying at home this January.

Let’s Play Monsters by Lucy Cousins (age 1+)

Lucy Cousins will be well known to many as the creator of the Maisie the mouse series of books. Her bright colours, heavy black outlines and recognisable font are ideal for the very young, and this rhyming picturebook is a perfect insight into the world of 3-year-old Gabriel who wants to play monsters. Members of Gabriel’s family (as well as the cat and a pot plant) are assigned various scary characteristics as Gabriel demands to be chased – a game that will be very familiar to those with young children. Ending with a bedtime kiss, this is a perfect lockdown book, showing all the fun that can be had in the confines of the home, with whatever kind of family might be there.

Rita agus an Lampa Draíochta le Máire Zepf agus Mr Ando (age 3+)

Rita agus an Lampa Draíochta is the sixth Rita title in the series to be published by An tSnáthaid Mhór, a Northern Irish publishing house. In this book, the main character Rita, a girl with big ideas, decides she wants a magic lamp with a genie inside to cater to her every whim. Rita goes on an Arabian-Nights style adventure on a magic carpet, wishing for a palace filled with gold, delicious food and beautiful clothes – and she doesn’t have to share any of it. The only problem is that her strong-willed little brother has wants of his own, and when he rubs the lamp, her fantasy is shattered and the genie gets a new master. Featuring illustrations rich with colour and pattern, this story will appeal to any families where there may be some sibling rivalry, while also sparking the imagination and ultimately showing a brother and sister playing make-believe together with beautiful simplicity.

Leo and the Octopus by Isabelle Marinov and Chris Nixon (age 4+)

When Leo goes on a trip to the aquarium and meets Maya the octopus, he finally feels that he has a friend who understands him. Leo often feels he’s on the wrong planet, one that is too bright and too loud and too stressful for him. But in Maya, he finds a friend with ‘eight arms, three hearts and a beak like a parrot,’ – one who looks about as strange as he feels. The blossoming friendship between Maya and Leo leads the young boy to become an expert on octopuses, learning everything there is to know about them. So when he meets another quiet little boy at the aquarium one day, he is happy to share what he knows, and introduce Maya to a new friend, getting a companion for himself in the process. Nixon’s colour palette of green, blue and coral flows through the book, with brilliantly expressive characters throughout. On the face of it, this is a gorgeous story of friendship. We are never told that Leo has autism, but a note in the book tells us that he is modelled on Marinov’s autistic son. This book will resonate especially with families where there is an ASD diagnosis or sensory processing issues, but avoids being didactic or heavy-handed and is heartily recommended for all children aged 4+.

Pizazz by Sophy Henn (age 7+)

Sophy Henn is a brilliant author-illustrator who previously created the Bad Nana series for this age group, as well as picturebooks including a series about a little boy called Ted and another about Pom Pom the Panda. Here we meet a new character, Pizazz (yes, that’s her real name), age 9¼, who is a superhero. Pizazz’s whole family are superheroes, right down to her grandparents, aunts and uncles, but she’s not too happy about it: having to balance being normal and super has its challenges, not least of which is going to school when you’ve been up all night saving the planet. With an environmentally friendly spin, Pizazz deals with being the new girl at school, not fitting in with ‘the populars’ and fighting to change the world for the better. The first in a new series.

The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection: Race to Adventure (age 7–14)

This is the third bumper comic book full of the laugh-out-loud humour, thrilling adventure and brilliant artwork we’ve come to know and love from The Phoenix story comic. Kids who already read the Phoenix regularly will know Bunny vs Monkey as well as Gorebrah, Squid Bits and more. Creators include Jamie Smart, James Stayte, Jess Bradley. Recommended for a really broad age range, comics can appeal to reluctant and avid readers alike and provide entertaining, bite-sized stories with a really strong visual element. If they love this, you can subscribe to the weekly comic, delivered to your home, which will keep them in the reading habit.

Morgana Mage in the Robotic Age by Amy Bond (age 8+)

A debut from Irish author Amy Bond. Morgana loves robots and longs to attend robotics school in the City. But she’s a witch, living in a magical woodland community: the closest she comes to technology is petting her ancient mechanical familiar, Kitty. She simply doesn’t belong. But when she finally finds a way to the City, she learns of a troubling secret hiding beneath its gleaming surface: a secret that threatens the balance of civilisation. Caught between two worlds, only Morgana has the power to find a solution.

Brand New Boy by David Almond, illustrated by Marta Altes (age 8+)

George is not like any other kids in the class, or in fact like anyone Dan or his mates have ever met before. But George turns out to be clever and funny, and everyone soon forgets his oddness…until a shocking truth comes to light. George is a robot! In fact, he is part of an ambitious new experiment in robot-kind. But the experiment is in danger, and there are people out to destroy him. Can Dan, Maxie, Billy and Louise rescue their new pal from obliteration? David Almond is the author of Skellig, My Name is Mina, The Savage, and many other novels, stories, picture books, opera librettos, songs and plays. If children enjoy this book, there will be a rich back catalogue waiting for them to explore.