Monday 27 February 2017

Read all about it -- Yule love these page-turners

Author Sarah Webb picks the best books for younger readers

Sarah Webb

Picture posed
Picture posed

By any standards, 2010 has been an exceptional year for Irish authors and illustrators who aim at younger readers. But where to start when it comes to picking one off the shelf and parting with your heard-earned cash? Remember, a good book is not just for Christmas!

In this round-up, I have focused on the very best, books that young people will genuinely want to read over and over again, as opposed to books that look beautiful but sit on the shelf.

Along with the picture books mentioned in the Top 10, Tiny Little Fly by Michael Rosen, and illustrated by Irish man Kevin Waldron (Walker Books, £11.99) is spectacular. The beautifully coloured animal images eat up the pages, and the text is ideal for reading aloud to younger children of two plus. And Charlie and Lola are back in Slightly Invisible (Orchard, £10.99), a delightfully snowy adventure for three plus.

Tales of Irish Enchantment by Patricia Lynch, illustrated by Sara Baker (Mercier, €19.99) is a handsome collection of six classic tales including Finn MacCool, with colourful, witty illustrations, ideal for reading aloud to age four plus.

Readers of six or seven plus who like a good laugh will love Mr Gum and the Cherry Tree by Andy Stanton (Egmont £5.99), a dazzling story of dastardly deeds and rule-breaking riot with plenty of manic illustrations.

And old favourite Alfie is back in Alfie Green and the Chocolate Cosmos by Joe O'Brien (O'Brien Press, €7.99), a charming and funny adventure tale. I also adored Iggy and Me and the Happy Birthday by Jenny Valentine (HarperCollins, £4.99). Iggy is a spirited Naughty Little Sister for our times.

Highlights of the year for readers of age nine plus include two Skulduggery Pleasant books (see the Top 10 box); Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne (David Fickling, £10.99), a striking tale of love and loss; Lost Dogs by new Irish talent Garrett Carr (Simon and Schuster, £6.99), a highly original yarn; and the fiendishly clever Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer (Puffin, £12.99).

Family and friendship dramas are popular at this age, and Cathy Cassidy's Chocolate Box Girls: Cherry Crush ticks all the right boxes (Puffin, £10.99). Cherry Costello has a vivid imagination, too vivid for her teacher who suspends her. When she and her dad move in with Charlotte and her four daughters, problems quickly arise.

A touching and thoughtful novel about the nature of modern family life.

Jacqueline Wilson's The Longest Whale Song (Doubleday, £10.99) is a little slow (not that this will put off her legions of fans), so I'd stick to Little Darlings, her new paperback (Yearling, £5.99) which is a fascinating glimpse into two very different girls' lives.

O'Brien Press has produced two historical novels for the nine-plus age group, Fugitives! by Aubrey Flegg (€7.99), a well written, carefully researched novel about the Flight of the Earls, and Across the Divide, by Fair City script writer, Brian Gallagher (€7.99), a vivid tale set in Dublin during the 1913 Lockout.

And O'Brien are to be commended for their beautifully produced Alice and Megan Cook Book (€9.99) packed with fun and easy-to-make recipes, bound to be a big hit with any young master chef.

And finally for this age group, Marie Louise Fitzpatrick has written a charming Irish ghost story, Timecatcher (Orion, £6.99), recently shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards.

But it's the teen books that really steal the show this Christmas. I must start by mentioning The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, £6.99 each), as they are extraordinary, larger-than-life books you don't just read, you live.

The main character, Katniss Everdeen, is unforgettable -- strong and clever, with the sharp instincts of a born hunter.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world called Panem, somewhere in North America, Katniss takes her little sister's place in 'The Hunger Games' where teenagers must enter a man-made gladiator's 'arena' to fight each other to the death, while being watched on live TV.

It's Big Brother gone bare-knuckle mad and makes compelling reading. I tend to be rather squeamish, but the violence (and yes, there is plenty) is never gratuitous and Katniss' hatred of 'The Games' and its dehumanising effect on every contestant makes the reader root for her all the more.

With a Hunger Games film currently in production, Collins is all set to be the next big thing in children's books.

Fans of the Hunger Games will also lap up I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (Penguin, £12.99), exhilarating science fiction for teens. John Smith is hiding from the horrifying Mogadorian aliens in a small town called Paradise, Ohio.

As one of nine Loric children who have sought refuge on Earth, he is number four, and numbers one, two and three are already dead. Will his super powers develop in time for him to defend himself?

Readers who prefer paranormal romance will adore Fallen by Lauren Kate (Random House, £6.99), a tale of a fallen angel and the girl who 'falls' for him, Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Barnes (Quercus, £6.99), and the best of the lot, Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick (Simon and Schuster, £6.99).

Irish writer, P Prendergast's Dancing in the Dark (O'Brien Press, €7.99) is an original take on death and grieving, centring on a teenage girl who has lost her brother; Darren Shan is still flying the horror flag proudly with his latest, Birth of a Killer (Harpercollins, £12.99); and Dermot Bolger has delivered an excellent spine-chilling debut teen novel, New Town Soul (New Island, €8.99).

And finally, a teen read of the year: Matched by Ally Condie (Puffin, £9.99). In Cassia's world, the 'Officials' decide everything -- who to love, where you will work, when you will die. But when she falls for another boy, a boy who is not her 'match', she is determined to make at least one choice for herself. Dystopia is here to stay.

Sarah Webb's Ask Amy Green: Bridesmaid Blitz, was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards. Her novel for adults, The Loving Kind, is published by Macmillan. www.sarahwebb.ie www.askamygreen.com

Irish Independent

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