Children's Books for Christmas on The Today Show

December 2021
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CEO of Children's Books Ireland, Elaina Ryan, joined Maura Derrane and Daithí Ó Sé on RTÉ 1's The Today Show, sharing some brilliant books for young readers of all ages this Christmas. 

Lulu's Sleepover cover

Lulu’s Sleepover by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw (Age 2–4)

Fans of this series will easily recognise Lulu, and newcomers will be happily swept along by this instalment. Lulu is so excited – she is going to cousin Hani’s for a sleepover! She has packed an outfit for every occasion, and just as well – her sleepover is action-packed! There is painting and gardening and dress-up, and then a movie with her aunties before bed. Perfectly pitched text and vibrant illustrations, bookended by very sweet endpapers featuring pyjamas, make this the perfect read for those heading off on their first sleepover! (age 2+)

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A Field Guide to Leaflings: Guardians of the Trees by Owen Churcher, illustrated by Niamh Sharkey (Age 4–8)

This interactive picturebook contains a wealth of tree knowledge alongside the fictional story of the Leaflings. Combining mythology and folklore with magic and facts, it is bursting with information about trees from around the world. Learn about the familiar oak and holly, and the perhaps lesser-known and fascinating kapok or Huangshan pine. The illustrations, flaps to lift, mini books within the book and lots of text will keep busy readers entertained over many rereadings. This is a celebration of the majesty and beauty of trees and all who love and protect them. (Age 4–8)

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Rabbit & Bear: A Bad King is a Sad King by Julian Gough, illustrated by Jim Field (age 5–7)

The fifth instalment in this hilarious series, children can easily start with this title and work backwards. Somebody new has arrived in Rabbit and Bear’s neighbourhood and all is not well. The big and mean interloper wants to rule over everyone. But Rabbit and Bear and their band of friends prove that teamwork does indeed make the dream work. With a classic comedy double-act, laugh-out-loud moments, glorious illustrations and a whole lot of heart, this series is just about perfect. Available in accessible formats via the Bookshare platform.

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Cluasa Capaill ar an Rí le Bridget Bhreathnach, maisithe ag Shona Shirley Macdonald (age 5–10)

The story of Labhraí Loingseach, the king with horse’s ears, is known and loved in Ireland. It is an international folktale, told and retold across the world in different versions, for hundreds (maybe thousands!) of years. This new version with illustrations by Shona Shirley Macdonald brings it vividly to life for a new generation. Labhraí is born to the king and queen with an unusual trait: he has horse’s ears. The king and queen worry that the child will be accepted, now and when he becomes king himself. A story about the bravery it can take to tell the truth, no matter what people think. Winner of the Gradam Réics Carló 2021.

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My Little Album of Ireland by Juliette Saumande, illustrated by Tarsila Krüse (Non-fiction, Age 5–7)

This charming non-fiction picturebook captures life in modern Ireland, giving snapshots of events and places all over the island. The careful selection of scenes is a great strength, resulting in an excellent book to share with a child. The illustrations contain small references to the history of each place or its well-known characters, interspersed naturally with animals and items for children to find. Additionally, a certain small character appears in every image, providing continuity to the scenes, well-hidden enough to make finding them feel rewarding. Fans of this can find a new story by the author and illustrator in this year’s Christmas RTÉ Guide.

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Tree Dogs, Banshee Fingers and Other Irish Words for Nature by Manchán Magan, illustrated by Steve Doogan (Non-fiction, Age 5–7, 8–12)

The only hint of colour in this book comes on the cover, which might seem odd for a nature book, but nothing could be further from the truth. The black-on-white linocuts alongside the bronze graphic-design elements carry such vibrancy that when matched with text so rich and visually descriptive in its telling of colours and textures the result is stunning in its dynamism. A glossary with helpful phonetic pronunciations brings this absolute gem of a book to a fitting end. A love letter to our national language.

The Great Irish Politics Book cover

The Great Irish Politics Book by David McCullagh, illustrated by Graham Corcoran (Non-fiction, Age 9–15)

In the introduction, politics is explained as both the big decisions made by government and the ‘small’ decisions we make every day. All decisions have a cause and effect and that is politics. The historical context of Ireland’s journey to a republic and a democracy takes us from clans, via the monarchy, to today’s political system, which is explained in detail. Taxes, elections, the constitution, referendums, rights and issues, media and Ireland’s place on the global stage are all covered. This book does a brilliant job of breaking down politics for younger readers.

Cardboard Cowboys by Brian Conaghan cover

Cardboard Cowboys by Brian Conaghan (Age 10+)

Lenny Lambert is a troubled but kind-hearted boy in his first year of secondary school in Scotland. He is struggling in school; his classmates make fun of him over his weight and he is dealing with the absence of his brother, Frankie. This book delivers an excellent portrayal of a struggling family in the midst of a family crisis. It deals with isolation, misplaced blame and feelings of not belonging. It takes us inside Lenny’s mind, with a frequently funny and heartbreaking internal monologue that provides the backbone of this excellent, well-written novel. Available in accessible formats via the Bookshare platform.

Not My Problem cover

Not My Problem by Ciara Smyth (YA)

This coming-of-age novel explores the struggles and relationships of Aideen, a secondary school student with attitude. A slapstick series of incidents hides the serious issues and worries Aideen faces with her troubled mother and life in general. Despite the hardships, her wisecracking observations prevent us, like herself, from wallowing in self-pity. A contemporary look at friendship, with a touch of Derry Girls and Sex Education, this book is filled with the heartache, hiccups and hilarity experienced by a young girl as she faces the world. Ciara’s debut, The Falling in Love Montage, was shortlisted for the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards last year and is available to download as an eBook from Borrowbox, free through your local public library.

Further recommendations

Children’s Books Ireland’s website has reviews and recommendations for children and young people aged 0–18 – check it out for themed reading lists on topics including starting school, difficult changes, positive first experiences, inclusivity and representation, as well as funny books, sports books and many more. 

In 2021, we published two new reading guides: Deliver the Joy of Reading, packed with great books that came out this year by Irish authors, illustrators and publishers, and Free To Be Me: the Diversity, Inclusion and Representation Reading Guide, which highlights books which allow children to see themselves represented and to build empathy for those whose lived experience may be different to their own.