Books to let their imaginations fly
Sarah Webb rounds up the very best reads to keep young bookworms of all ages happy this summer
The summer holidays are a great time to get children reading. Publishers are producing some standout books to lure young readers away from their computers and back to the page.
Young children love picture books and Sarah Bowie's debut picture book, Let's See Ireland, is stunning (O'Brien Press, €12.99). Molly is going on a road trip around Ireland with her family and the reader is invited to join her as she visits Dublin Zoo, Hook Lighthouse and many other Irish landmarks.
More travelogue than story, the idea is charming and the lively pencil and watercolour illustrations are masterly. Bowie has an eye for detail and her characters and animals are full of mischief and fun. Age 3+.
This is Not a Book by Jean Jullien is another great book for younger readers aged 4+ (Phaidon, €9.25). The format - board, generally used for toddler books - works perfectly for this mini-masterpiece, which is more romp through clever concepts and wonderfully realised images than 'book'. The pages turn into a keyboard, a tennis court and a piano. Great fun for all the family.
For a child who loves a good laugh, Claude All At Sea by Alex T Smith (Hodder, €15.75) is a sweet, funny and colourfully illustrated story about a little dog and his best friend, a sock, who accidentally set sail in their bathtub. Odd Bods is another giggle-inducing picture book by Steven Butler, illustrated by Jarvis (Puffin, €9.25). "Ava is an odd bod, Boris is too…" A glorious ode to being different, with vibrant, witty illustrations that spark with energy, this is a great book for reading aloud to children of age 3+, odd or not!
Gill Books (previously Gill and Macmillan) has had great success with Irelandopedia by Fatti and John Burke and the Irelandopedia Activity Book is ideal for the summer season, a fun compendium of black-and-white colouring pages, join the dots and word searches (€9.99). The Wild Atlantic Way Activity Book by Natasha Mac a'Bháird and illustrated in glowing colour by Alan Nolan (O'Brien Press) is packed with information and quizzes and great value at €7.99.
I was disappointed by Naturama by Michael Fewer, illustrated by Melissa Doran (Gill Books, €22.99). The text is excellent, lots of well-written nuggets of interesting information, but many of the animals and plants described are not illustrated and I was left wondering what a whirligig beetle or a chiffchaff look like. Some pages have no artwork at all, other illustrations strain to cover the page, as if small drawings were simply blown up to accommodate the large format. Doran is certainly talented but her artwork was not put to good use by the book's designer.
However, there are some outstanding non-fiction titles this season, including Wild Animals of the North by Dieter Brown (Flying Eye Books, €26.50) and The Big Book of Bugs by Yuval Zommer (Thames and Hudson, €16.99). Both combine succinct, lyrical text with strong illustrations and design and are ideal for young fact-lovers of age 6+. Best of the bunch is The Wolves of Currumpaw by award-winning author/illustrator William Grill (Flying Eye Books, €19.50). It tells the tale of Lobo, the wolf leader of a notorious wolf pack in New Mexico, and how his life directly led to the wildlife conservation movement. It's a fascinating story and the unusual colour-pencil illustrations are mesmerising.
Early readers of age 6+ love gentle, funny school stories and Wigglesbottom Primary: The Magic Hamster by Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Becka Moor (Nosy Crow, €8.99) is spot on for this age group. Tiger Days and the Secret Cat by Sarah Lean (HarperCollins, €8.75) is also perfect for younger children. Tiger's grandmother looks after animals at Willowgate House and every day a new creature arrives in need of help. Luckily, Tiger is on hand to be her assistant.
If your child likes poetry, Gabriel Fitzmaurice's work has been gathered together in an attractive new collection, Will You Be My Friend? (Liberties Press, €12.99). His poems cover all kinds of subjects from school to siblings, and the best, like 'Poems for Lonely', are thoughtful and poignant; but be warned, toilet humour does feature strongly.
Football fans of 9+ will love two books by Irish authors, Joe O'Brien's Legends' Lair (O'Brien Press, €8.99), where Charlie has to move back to Dublin from England, make new friends and find a new football team to play for; and The Mighty Dynamo by Kieran Crowley, illustrated by Marta Kissi (Macmillan, €9.99), the story of Noah, who longs to be a professional player but gets unfairly banned from the school team.
Wimpy Kid fans will lap up The 65-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, illustrated by Terry Denton (Macmillan, €7.99), the latest in the hilarious 'Treehouse' series about a giant treehouse which has a 'birthday room' where every day is your birthday, an ant farm and a time machine. A huge hit in their native Australia, these books combine slapstick adventure with lively cartoon illustrations.
It's wonderful to see Tom McCaughren's award-winning fox novel, Run with the Wind back in print (O'Brien Press, €8.99); and Pax by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen (HarperCollins, €19) is another beautifully crafted novel about foxes. When Peter is forced to abandon his pet fox, Pax, by his father who is leaving to fight in the war, Peter is distraught. He decides to find Pax and sets out alone on a remarkable journey. A moving story about loss, friendship and the effect of war on children and animals. It had me spellbound and I'd highly recommend it for thoughtful readers of age 10+.
Mystery books for children are making a big comeback and Mystery and Mayhem: Twelve Deliciously Intriguing Mysteries, edited by Katherine Woodfine (Egmont, €10.50), is a wonderful introduction to the genre for readers of age 10+. The writers include Frances Hardinge and Robin Stevens, and each story is told with great humour and aplomb.
If your reader hasn't discovered Stevens' Detective Society books yet, then she or he is in for a treat. The latest is Jolly Foul Play (Penguin, €10.99), where Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are back at Deepdean boarding school, ready to solve another mystery. When the new head girl is found murdered, can the girls save the day? Brilliantly smart and funny, these are highly recommended for readers of 10+ and adults who love cosy crime, too.
Also for this age group, Gold by Geraldine Mills (Little Island, €11.70) is a thoughtful, well-written dystopian adventure story which deals with big themes like politics and ecology and was inspired by watching the landscape in Connemara and knowing how easily it could all be destroyed.
There are plenty of meaty titles for teenagers this summer, including Caramel Hearts by West Cork writer ER Murray (Alma, €10.50), an honest and compelling novel about Liv Bloom, who goes in search of her absent father and is sustained and comforted by the recipes in her mother's secret journal; Chasing the Stars by ex-UK Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman (Doubleday, €14.99), a gripping teen love story set in space, inspired by Shakespeare's Othello; and Nothing Tastes as Good by Dubliner Claire Hennessy (Hot Key, €10.99), a clever YA novel (for older teens) about Julia and her "guardian angel" Annabel, who has problems of her own. A searing, engaging and surprisingly humorous look at eating disorders and teen mental health, with this breakout novel Hennessy is all set to join Louise O'Neill and Deirdre Sullivan (author of Needlework) as one of Ireland's most important YA writers. A must-read for older teens and their parents alike.
Finally, we must wait until July 31 for the book every child is dying to read, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (parts one and two) by J K Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, the eighth story in the mega bestselling series. Written as a script for the new stage show which opens in London on July 30, it's ideal for reading aloud to your child this summer - start practising your best wizard voices now!
Sarah Webb is a writer for children and adults. She is the new Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown Writer in Residence