Today with Claire Byrne: CEO of Children’s Books Ireland, Elaina Ryan, on great books for readers aged 0–11 this Christmas
This year we have seen a huge number of debut writers and illustrators being published, and a few familiar names publishing their debut for children. There’s a wealth of amazing Irish books out there, which you can find out more about in our new reading guide, Deliver The Joy Of Reading, free to download from our website or available in bookshops nationwide and libraries in Northern Ireland.
Maybe… by Chris Haughton
In Maybe… three little monkeys who go right ahead and do exactly what their mother told them not to do. Little readers will be completely absorbed into the monkey mischief. You can almost hear the ‘maybe’ as the monkeys wonder if they can maybe just have a look and maybe just try a little mango. But will they escape the tigers? Read it and see. Chris Haughton is one of our very best author illustrators and is my go to for new baby gifts. Do check out his brilliant back catalogue – Shh! We Have a Plan might be my favourite. Many of his titles are available as board books for little hands to explore, and many have been translated into different languages.
Daidí na Nollag le Áine Ní Ghlinn, maisithe ag Mr Ando
Daidí na Nollag is a fabulous Christmas poem written by our Laureate na nÓg Áine Ní Ghlinn and illustrated by Andrew Whitson, styled here as Mr Ando. This is a stunning hardback gift book with super rhyming text, suitable for the very youngest readers. It’s the story of the most exciting night of the year, and shows us in beautiful jewel tones Santa and the elves preparing to go all around the world with gifts for the children.
A Dublin Christmas by Nicola Colton
Another stunning hardback with shiny gold lettering, and featuring so many of the Christmassy sights of Dublin that even those of us from outside the Pale know and love: the GPO, the National Library Reading Room, the lights of Grafton Street and Brown Thomas’ window. Orla is waiting for her Gran, whose flight is delayed on Christmas eve, and though she is missing her, she knows that hanging Gran’s special fairy lights on the tree will help her feel better. But when the power goes, she has to enlist the help of some very special fairies (yes, they’re actual *fairy* lights) to light up the city for Christmas. You’ll have to read it to see if Orla gets a very special present on Christmas morning.
Evie’s Christmas Wishes by Siobhán Parkinson, illustrated by Shannon Bergin
Evie has a special relationship with Christmas, being born on Christmas Eve. Like most children her age, Evie has wishes – many, many wishes! The book captures all the best elements of Christmas: school plays, pantomimes, baking, decorating, carol singers, the arrivals hall at the airport. The illustration here feels warm and cosy – and I particularly want to note that all three of these books have characters of colour, from the elves, to Orla who is a mixed race child. We love to see picturebooks especially being more inclusive; it’s so important for the richness and diversity of Irish society to be in the books we give to children and young people.
The Last Seaweed Pie by Wenda Shurety, illustrated by Paddy Donnelly
A super book for young environmentalists – but one that stands as a great story, too, and brilliantly illustrated. The Treeple love making things, but when they make new things they throw away the old. The Sea-ple live in the ocean and when the rubbish from the land piles up underwater, they emerge on land, seeking a new home. The message of reusing and opening one’s eyes to the lure of the new and its environmental impact is well done in this book. Tips for how the reader can become an ‘Ocean Hero’ at the end make this an ideal pick for small folks who are starting to learn about the environment and want to make a difference. (Age 0–4, 5–8)
Kevin vs the Unicorns by Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve
Max and his best friend Kevin, the roly-poly flying pony, decide to enter the Magical Pony Club Steeplechase. Kevin is not particularly keen, as the other participants are all unicorns, and everybody knows that unicorns are quite snobby. But biscuits are promised, and Kevin can’t resist his favourite food; besides, he wants to make Max proud. As the competition heats up, our inseparable duo uncovers a conspiracy to steal the precious Periwinkle Cup. This is the fourth Kevin book, and they’re always terrific adventures – perfect, heavily illustrated chapterbooks for readers aged 5 or 6 who are starting to be able for something a bit longer than picturebooks.
How Winston Came Home for Christmas by Alex T. Smith
Another Christmas gift book, and this is a very special one. This is a chunky hardback with a chapter to read each night of December, up to the big day. It’s the sequel to How Winston Delivered Christmas, thought it works as a stand alone, and in this story Winston sets out on an exciting round-the-world adventure to find a missing fellow mouse, helped along the way by wonderful old friends and delightful new ones, too. Alex T Smith is the creator of the much loved Claude the dog series and this book is full of gorgeous colour artwork and Christmassy activities after each chapter, including crafting decorations, making Christmas food and discovering Christmas traditions from around the world. A book to love year after year.
Rescuing Titanic: a true story of quiet bravery in the North Atlantic by Flora Delargy
This truly remarkable début from Belfast writer–illustrator Flora Delargy tells the story of a group of ordinary people who became heroes in a time of crisis. It celebrates the best of humanity and sensitively acknowledges the heartbreak and suffering caused on that fateful night. The action jumps between the large and luxurious Titanic and the modest, unremarkable Carpathia. The text flows seamlessly; the illustrations are breathtaking. Sweeping scenes of panicked crowds and small quiet moments are captured with equal skill. Delargy tells the story beautifully; this one will really appeal to children who are interested in facts and in history.
The Very Dangerous Sisters of Indigo McCloud by John Hearne
Writing a dystopian world that is laugh-out-loud funny is no mean feat, but to create such an environment for young readers is nothing short of extraordinary. Indigo finds himself the unwilling hero of the tale, battling against his formidably vindictive sisters as they terrorise the town of Blunt and monopolise income from door-to-door calendar sales. The story will come to young readers with freshness and wild humour, stretching their ideas about how far-fetched fiction can be. Super for readers age 9+. For more dark humour, check out The Summer I Robbed a Bank by David O’Doherty, illustrated by Chris Judge, a recent An Post Irish Book Awards winner.
Skyborn by Sinéad O’Hart
An orphaned circus tumbler, Bastjan has grown up hearing amazing tales of his mother’s famed aerial act. When the circus falls on hard times, the cruel ringmaster forces Bastjan onto the doomed trapeze and promises Bastjan’s only memento, a box of curious objects from his mother’s faraway homeland, to the mysterious Dr Bauer. Bastjan soon unravels a terrible legacy and sets out to correct it. With vibrant characters, immersive settings and a thrilling plot, O’Hart mixes fantasy, steampunk and the circus to magical effect. Skyborn is a prequel to Sinéad’s first book, The Eye of the North, but you can read them in order – in fact, the author suggests starting with Skyborn first!
Children’s Books Ireland’s website has reviews and recommendations for children and young people aged 0–18, including the Books Make Things Better guide featuring great books by Irish authors, illustrators, translators and publishers, Mind Yourself: the Mental Health and Wellbeing Reading Guide and over thirty 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.