Friday 21 July 2017

Books to take them places

With the summer holidays just around the corner, Sarah Webb gives her top choices - from picture books all the way up to young adult novels - for little bookworms

Books are an ideal companion during an Irish summer
Books are an ideal companion during an Irish summer
The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors
The Giant Jumperee
Keepsake
Like Other Girls
The Mysterious Librarian
Good Dog
My Naturama Nature Journal
Isaac and his amazing Asperger's superpowers

Irish summer holidays are made for curling up with a good book. Lying in a tree house as the rain splutters down, or curled up in a towel on a wind-swept beach, what could be better than transporting your mind to Oz or Narnia? This summer there are some outstanding books for all ages to get lost in.

Picture books Age 3+

For young children, The Giant Jumperee (Puffin) brings together two picture-book giants, Julia Donaldson and Helen Oxenbury. "Rabbit was hopping home one day when he heard a loud voice coming from inside his burrow. 'I'm the Giant Jumperee and I'm as scary as can be!'" So begins this future modern classic, a delight to read aloud, with outstanding watercolour and pencil illustrations from Oxenbury.

If your child loves a good giggle, The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt is ideal (HarperCollins). About the 'epic' tale behind the playground game, everyone I've read this to - young and old - has fallen around laughing. Daywalt has comic form, he's best known as the author of The Day the Crayons Quit, illustrated by our own Oliver Jeffers. The strongly coloured, lively illustrations here are by Adam Rex.

There's a Walrus in my Bed! by new Irish talent Ciara Flood will also make any child chuckle (Andersen Press). With echoes of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, it chronicles what happens when a stubborn walrus visits a young boy's house. There's a marvellous twist at the end and this one is bound to become a bedtime favourite.

Clive McFarland is another Irish talent and his new picture book, Caterpillar Dreams (Harper), is an inspiring and heart-warming story about a tiny caterpillar with big dreams. It has striking Eric Carle-esque collage illustrations.

Age 5 to 8

Good Dog McTavish by Meg Rosoff, illustrated by Grace Easton (Barrington Stoke), is a warm, funny story about a dog called McTavish who adopts a particularly difficult 'rescue' family. Fed up, the mother has given up being at everyone's beck and call and has left her children to their own devices. Luckily, McTavish is no ordinary dog. A wonderful read-aloud and highly recommended.

I have always loved books set in libraries and The Mysterious Librarian by Dominique Demers (Alma) doesn't disappoint. When the eccentric Miss Charlotte appears from nowhere and takes over the tiny village library, she changes the children's lives forever. With pen-and-ink illustrations by Tony Ross, who also illustrates the David Walliams books, this is a quirky gem.

The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Ashley King (Scholastic), is the charming story of 11-year-old Property Jones who was left in the lost property cupboard of a bookshop when she was little. When her family win a bookshop, the Montgomery Book Emporium, Property is thrilled but all is not what it seems.

There are plenty of gems from Irish publishers for younger readers. My Naturama Nature Journal by Michael Fewer (Gill Books) brings together fascinating nature facts and colourful illustrations by Melissa Doran in one handsome diary. If your family likes quizzes or has a long journey ahead, then The Irelandopedia Quiz Book by Shauna Burke (Gill Books) is just the ticket for age 7+, and Poolbeg are back with another book in their excellent Nutshell series about Irish history, this time featuring Tom Crean: Hero of the South Pole. Written by Poolbeg's editor, Gaye Shortland, with illustrations by Derry Dillon, this is a good introduction to the Antarctic hero. I look forward to seeing some women in the new Adventurers series, such as Irish aviator Lady Mary Heath, who was the first person in the world to fly solo from Cape Town to London in 1928.

Readers of 7+ and their parents will be fascinated by The Lost Library Book, Amanda Bell's remarkable true story of a forgotten library book which was returned to Marsh's Library in Dublin after a whopping 100 years. How's that for being overdue? Illustrated by Alice Durand-Wietzel, it's a handsome hardback from The Onslaught Press.

Readers of Age 9+

Shane Hegarty has been in the press recently as his Darkmouth books are being made into an animated film. The latest in the series is Hero Rising (HarperCollins), where reluctant young monster-hunter Finn and his legend-hunter dad are reduced to washing dogs for a living while the monsters run riot in Darkmouth. Can Finn save the day once again? Hegarty writes with a light, engaging touch and this fast-paced fantasy adventure series is great for younger readers of 9+. It's scary, but not too scary, and there is plenty of humour, too.

Readers who like their adventure action packed will love the new Alex Rider novel, Never Say Die, by Anthony Horowitz (Walker). Our favourite teen spy whizzes around the world, from San Francisco to Egypt, at breakneck speed.

I'm a huge Katherine Rundell fan and her latest novel, The Explorer (Bloomsbury, out August), does not disappoint. When a group of children find themselves lost in the Amazon rainforest after a terrifying plane crash, they come across signs in the jungle that someone or something has been there before. Rundell's research - she travelled to the Amazon and swam with pink river dolphins - shines through in a beautifully written novel that's filled with vivid descriptions and plucky, clever children. One to seek out when it's published in August.

I also loved Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth (Orion, out June) a cracking adventure and survival novel set in the Himalayas which really makes you think about the plight of the Tibetan people.

For thoughtful readers of 10+, Ross Welford's What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible (HarperCollins) is a well-crafted book with a brilliant premise - what would happen if you went invisible? Twelve-year-old Ethel accidentally does just that and manages to find out the truth about who she really is along the way. Full of gentle humour, books like this often get overlooked in the crash, bang, wallop of celebrity children's publishing and this intelligent story is well worth seeking out.

The Smoking Hourglass (The Uncommoners) by Jennifer Bell (Corgi, out June 15) is another buried treasure, a quirky tale full of imagination and wonder, a brilliant fusion of mystery and magic. Set in the enchanted city of Lundinor, Ivy Sparrow, her brother Seb and their strange friend Valian are the only ones who can stop the evil Dirge and their nasty plans. Ideal for Harry Potter fans of 8+.

Award-winning Irish-based writer Paula Leyden's new novel for age 9+, Keepsake (Little Island), is a compelling read about Ella and her new friend, Traveller boy Johnny, who are desperate to save his beloved horse. Bray writer Alan Nolan is back with Sam Hannigan's Woof Week (O'Brien Press) about animal-lover and champion Irish dancer Sam, who gets stuck inside the body of her neighbour's dog with hilarious consequences; and finally for history lovers (and school classrooms no doubt) Pawns by Brian Gallagher (O'Brien Press) tackles the War of Independence and three young friends with conflicting loyalties who are thrown together one night when the Black and Tans set Balbriggan on fire. Based on true events - the Black and Tans burned down 25 family homes in retaliation for the shooting of two of their men - it's a timely look at Irish history by an experienced historical novelist for children.

Age 11+

Teenage readers will be thrilled with the return of one of Ireland's greatest fantasy characters, Skulduggery Pleasant. Book 10 in the series, Resurrection by Derek Landy (HarperCollins), sees the skeleton detective team up with Valkyrie once more to save the world. From the start, Landy is back to his wise-cracking best and this book sizzles with whip-smart dialogue and dark humour galore. Highly recommended.

I read Troublemakers by Catherine Barter (Andersen Press) in one sitting - a clever, thoughtful novel with a wonderfully realistic main character. Alena was raised by her brother and his boyfriend, and has always had questions about her mother. When her brother starts working for a controversial politician with dodgy morals, Nick walks out, leaving Alena floundering. But slowly the secrets from her past start to reveal themselves. Age 13+. And The Girl in Between by Irish writer Sarah Carroll (Simon & Schuster) is something a little different, a family story about homelessness - with ghosts. Sam and her mam live in an abandoned mill in the heart of Dublin, but their safe haven is about to be threatened by the 'men in yellow coats'.

Young Adult/ age 13+

There is an abundance of strong YA (Young Adult) novels by Irish writers this summer, including first-time novelist Meg Grehan. The Space Between (Little Island) is a novel in verse which tackles teen mental illness, love and friendship. Grehan is only 24 and this is an accomplished debut.

No Filter by Orlagh Collins is another debut novel set in Ireland about a teenager. Emerald is sent to stay with her Irish grandmother while her mother is in recovery. When she meets local boy Liam, things start to look up. A likeable summer romance with edge for teens. (Bloomsbury, out July)

Kicking off three more from Irish writers is Song Street by Sheena Wilkinson (Black and White), which features a teen busker on the brink of homelessness. Once a singing sensation after winning a television talent show, he's now at a low ebb. Wilkinson is an experienced author and in her hands, Ryan's tale is searingly honest and gripping.

In Like Other Girls (Hot Key) Claire Hennessy also deals with some weighty subjects - teen pregnancy, abortion, gender identity - but manages to balance the darkness with wit and humour, no mean feat. Not always an easy read, but an important one.

Moira Fowley-Doyle is back with her second YA novel, Spellbook of the Lost and Found (Penguin Random House), set during one heady Irish summer. Teenager Olive and her best friend Rose start to misplace things but when they find an old handwritten spellbook with charms to find lost things, they have no idea where it will lead them. A lyrical tale about unsettling secrets, with a twisty, dark seam.

Also worth checking out for young adults are Following Ophelia by Sophia Bennett (Stripes), a historical novel set in Pre-Raphaelite London and featuring glamorous parties, scandal and intrigue; and Release by Patrick Ness, one of the best YA writers around (Walker), a story of love and loss inspired by Virginia Wolfe's Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume's Forever (a heady mix). Ness's books are always original and this one is no exception.

My YA book for the season has to be The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Walker Books). When 16-year-old Starr's unarmed best friend, Khalil, is murdered in front of her by a police officer, she's thrown into turmoil. What she knows could get her killed but is she brave enough to speak out? A powerful and moving novel written with urgency and passion, with some of the most vividly real characters in any YA book I've read, it's a must-read this summer.

Sarah Webb is a writer and children's book commentator and currently Writer in Residence in Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown. Her latest book, A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea (with Steve McCarthy) is published in September

A different spectrum: books with autism theme

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Isaac and his amazing Asperger's superpowers
 

According to a study by the National Council for Special Education last year, 1 in 65 children has an autism spectrum diagnosis, or 1.5pc of the overall school population. It's good to see writers and publishers producing titles to match this need, with novels and non-fiction books about autism or featuring autistic characters for all children to read, 'neuro-normal' included. 

For young children, Isaac and His Amazing Asperger Superpowers! by Melanie Walsh (Walker) is an attractive picture book with colourful illustrations which explains Asperger's syndrome in jaunty, no-nonsense text.  Age 4+

All Birds Have Anxiety by Kathy Hoopmann (Jessica Kingsley) uses attractive photographs of birds combined with carefully written captions to explain anxiety. This book would be useful to read with all children, not just anxious ones or children on the spectrum (who can suffer elevated anxiety). Age 5+

In The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens (Puffin, out August), Ted, a boy who "runs on a unique operating system" and sees the world in a very different way, tries to solve the riddle of a stolen painting. The theft is being blamed on his aunt and he's determined to help, even if he doesn't see the point of art. Written as a sequel to The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd, who sadly died in 2007, this is a cracking adventure tale for age 9+.

The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas (Macmillan) is a warm, funny and honest book about a teen girl with Asperger's who is trying to fix her world when it starts falling apart. Lucas's daughter was diagnosed with Asperger's in secondary school and the writer is also on the spectrum. Their shared experiences prompted her to write the book, so that 'invisible' autistic girls could see themselves on the page. Age 13+

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