Friday 28 April 2017

Giant Eagles, a pet moose and a zombie attack

Children deserve good books all year round. They deserve beautiful picture books that will transport them to other worlds. They deserve novels that will entertain, inspire, and make them think. This Christmas, forget the plastic toys and video games, and give them a gift that will last.

Books for babies and toddlers are often overlooked, but it's never too early to start raising a young reader. Christmas-themed books date pretty quickly, so instead I'd suggest stuffing Slow Snail by Galway woman, Mary Murphy (Walker Books, £4.99) into their stocking.

Snail slides s-l-o-w-l-y down a flower leaving a shiny silver trail in her wake. This is a beautifully designed board book, with colourful artwork and a simple, easy-to-follow story.

Irish picture-book makers are going from strength to strength and Oliver Jeffers is definitely one of my favourites. He won this year's Irish Book Awards' Junior Category with the outstanding This Moose Belongs to Me (HarperCollins £11.99).

Wilfred 'owns' a pet moose, Marcel. But Marcel has other ideas about ownership. A wonderfully quirky story, with rich illustrations.

I also adored Chris Haughton's Oh, No, George! (Walker Books, £11.99), a glorious, banana-smile of a story with lush illustrations.

When George's owner Harris goes out, George promises to be good, but the doggie temptations – cake, cats and the flowerbed – are too much for him.

Chris Judge won last year's Irish Book Awards Junior Category with The Lonely Beast, and he's back with The Great Explorer (Andersen Press, £5.99), a rousing and beautifully illustrated arctic adventure featuring a boy called Tom who travels to the North Pole to find his father.

Little Nutbrown Hare is back in Sam McBratney's new tale, Guess How Much I Love You: Here, There and Everywhere (Walker, £12.99); and fellow northern writer, Martin Waddell's classic Owl Babies is now available in Irish: Ulchabháin Óga (Walker Eireann, £6.99). If, like me, your Irish isn't as strong as it should be, the illustrations by Patrick Benson will help untangle the text.

Early readers of age six to eight are well served with the new Nightmare Club books from Little Island, The Wolfling's Bite, and Frankenkids (€5.99 each).

Written by Oisín McGann and David Maybury, these are scary novellas with a sting in the tale!

The Wolfling's Bite features Jessie and her cuddly, robotic wolf, Twinkle. When she's bitten in the middle of the night, Jessie wonders if Twinkle is all that she seems.

In Frankenkids, Mad Uncle Fraser's horrifying experiments with the cat-monkey-parrot are mild compared to what he has in store for his young neighbours.

Also worth a look is Vroom-Town: the Adventure of Tim the Tipper in Quentin's Quarry (€11.95), a lovely story about trucks and a quarry by Emer Conlon from Dundalk, which has a secret code giving readers access to a website.

Readers of eight plus will lap up Leave It To Eva by Judi Curtin (O'Brien Press, £7.99). Eva goes back to Seacove with her family and looks forward to seeing her old friend, Kate. But Kate has disappeared, and when Eva discovers her living alone, she is shocked but tries to help.

Curtin doesn't pull any punches when it comes to describing Kate's difficult family situation and Eva is a beautifully drawn, realistic character.

John Boyne's The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket (Doubleday, £11.99), about a boy who defies gravity and travels the world alone, having magical adventures, makes a wonderful read aloud for children of seven plus; and Marita Conlon-McKenna's Love, Lucie (Simon and Schuster, £9.99) is a thoughtful and moving story about an 11-year-old girl whose mum has just died.

The story is cleverly told through Lucie's letters to her dead mum, complete with Lucie's drawings and doodles, and ends on a realistic yet hopeful note. Perfect for sensitive readers of age 10-plus.

Also very good is The Ark of Dun Ruah by Cork teacher Maria Burke (Currach), the first in a series which starts when the quiet life of Kilbeggin is shattered when a horde of Giant Eagles descend on it.

The Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney have enjoyed huge global success and The Third Wheel (Puffin, £12.99), the latest in the series, was the bestselling book across all categories in Eason shops.

Will Greg find a date for the Valentine's Day dance? All will be revealed in this laugh-out-loud story.

And Kinney fans will also adore Tom Gates' latest adventure, Genius Ideas (Mostly) by L Pichon (Scholastic, £6.99), a brilliantly funny tale involving a talent show, the worst cycling shorts ever and burnt sausages.

Confident readers who like a book with plenty of action and adventure will love Derek Landy's new Skulduggery Pleasant saga, Kingdom of the Wicked (Harpercollins, €9.99) which sees normal people across Ireland suddenly develop unstable magical powers, endangering everyone.

Can Valkyrie Cain and Skulduggery save the world for the seventh time?

They will also adore Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer (Puffin, £12.99), the last book in the award-winning series. Will Artemis finally get the better of Opal Koboi? Will Holly Short save the day yet again? How will Colfer tie up all the loose ends? Fans of the series will be charmed by this cracking read.

Teenagers are also well catered for this season. In Rebecca's Rules (O'Brien, €7.99) Anna Carey throws her heroine, Rebecca more curve balls – friendship dramas, boy trouble and school musical dilemmas.

Darren Shan's older fans are in for a treat with, Zom-B (Simon and Schuster, £10.99), a gory scare-fest about a modern day zombie attack, with two monumental twists.

And I loved Sara Zarr's How to Save a Life (Usborne, £6.99), a gripping family drama for older teens about Jill and her mum who get involved with a pregnant teenager, Mandy. One day Mandy arrives on their doorstep, changing all their lives forever.

And finally my favourite book of the year has to be John Green's remarkably brave and honest, The Fault is in Our Stars (Puffin, £12.99), the story of two American teenagers who happen to have cancer. Heartbreaking, funny, full of emotional truth, if you want to keep your older teens reading, this is the book to give them.

Sarah Webb's latest book for age 10+ is Ask Amy Green: Dancing Daze.

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