Thursday 22 February 2018

The books I grew up with... our top children's authors reveal all


Marita Conlon-McKenna
Marita Conlon-McKenna
Claire Hennessy
Eilis Barrett
Author Dave Rudden. Photo: Tony Gavin

From old favourites to modern classics, some of Ireland's best-known children's authors pick their top books for younger readers

Marita Conlon-McKenna

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder is an American classic about the adventures of Laura and her pioneering family. I read all the books in this series over and over again. They have definitely stood the test of time.

Walter Macken's The Flight of the Doves is great Irish adventure story about Finn and Derval Dove who escape from their cruel stepfather Uncle Toby in England and try to get to their grandmother's cottage in Galway. Their uncle, realising they are due to inherit money, does everything he can to catch them.

I got hysterics laughing the first time I read about Roald Dahl's Matilda, the quiet bookworm, with secret super-powers. I also love Dahl's The Enormous Crocodile for younger kids.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne is probably the best children's book about the Second World War and the Holocaust ever. Makes everyone who reads it really think. There's fantastic writing in Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games as Katniss Everdeen is chosen from District 12 to compete in the Hunger Games. This dystopian novel tells of her fight to survive but also how she becomes a symbol of the growing revolution against The Capitol.

David Walliams' Awful Auntie is brilliant. Orphan Stella Saxby is left in the care of her horrible Aunt Alberta, who along with her giant owl Wagner has lots of fiendish plans to get rid of rid of Stella so that she can inherit the castle.

A group of gifted kids, including Irish boy Cormac, are brought together in the secret Black Lotus School for ninjas in Kieran Fanning's Black Lotus. They are trained to use their special skills to fight the evil Lord Goda. This is an engrossing read that moves between present day and 16th-century Japan.

Marita Conlon-McKenna's Rebel Sisters is published by Transworld Ireland

Peadar Ó Guilín

My favourite reads growing up were the Asterix books by Goscinny and Uderzo.

Every one of them is a romp: a road trip around the wonders of the Roman world; a buddy movie full of affectionate bickering; an action-packed rainbow of comedy, featuring everything from pratfalls and puns, to historical in-jokes for the amusement of linguists and archaeologists. Above all, Asterix books are an utter joy.

And that joy is not an ageist one. I received my first book in the series - Asterix and the Roman Agent - when I was seven. It had a green cover and Where's Wally-style battle scenes that ended in nothing worse than sore heads for the poor Romans. I loved the bright pictures and over-the-top characters.

But, in later years, whenever I returned to this particular book, or any of the others penned by the first writer of the series - the brilliant Goscinny - I uncovered new layers of humour.

At the heart of these stories, and it's a BIG heart, lies the relationship between the pint-sized but plucky Asterix, and the dim but exuberant Obelix. They're grown-up boys, that's all, and they live in a village of grown-up, unruly children.

To my 21st-century eyes, some of the illustrations seem racist. It's also true that the world of the books leaves girl readers with far too few characters to cheer for. However, I will always be grateful to Asterix and Co. They fed my curiosity. They filled rainy days with wonder. And above all, over many, many years, they made me laugh.

Peadar Ó Guilín's The Call is published by David Fickling Books

Claire Hennessy

When Roald Dahl's Matilda realises there is something strange going on, she yearns for "just one person, one wise and sympathetic grown-up" to talk to. I revisited this classic recently and despite being an alleged adult, that sentence made me immediately revert to that strange childhood state of vulnerability mixed with resilience.

Dahl's kids can face any horrors - witches, giants, even headmistresses - so long as there is one wise adult on their side.

Like the books Matilda reads to feel less alone, his work comforts and reassures kids even as it acknowledges that bad, scary things do happen.

I say 'kids' but really mean 'readers'. Kids' books are still what I turn to when upset or anxious. They're where the truth lives, are slightly more socially-acceptable than a physical security blanket, and the best of them stay relevant even as we age. I've devoured the Harry Potter series an absurd number of times, usually over-identifying with Hermione Granger and her reliance on the library even though she admits "friendship and bravery" are infinitely more important than "cleverness". The last re-read offered up this gem about the title character, though: "The fact of his own survival burned inside him", at a point at which the soul-sucking Dementors cannot affect Harry anymore. He has survived. He is scarred and grieving, but he has survived, and life goes on, and when these reminders are revealed to us in stories, they have so much more power than they do when printed on inspirational fridge magnets.

Claire Hennessy's Like Other Girls is published by Hot Key Books

Dave Rudden

I didn't find my love for horror fiction in a bat-haunted castle or a fog-choked London street. Monstrous silhouettes climbing rickety stairs weren't scary to 12-year-old Dave - that was where monsters were supposed to be. If you didn't get one, you should ask for your money back.

What frightened me far more were monsters in places there shouldn't be monsters.

I may have grown up in rural Ireland, but the architecture of my head was all Midwest suburbia - storm cellars and fireflies and Dutch colonial eaves, fuelled by a diet of pop punk and Point Horror. I still have no idea what a Sadie Hawkins dance is, but there was something so fascinating about how wholesome it all was. How alien.

And curling around it all, like fingers round a coffin lid, were the stories; teachers that couldn't be trusted, houses that should be shunned, the dangerous urge to explore. Point Horror captured all that teenage mistrust, all the triumph, all the shame, the desperate need to stand out and the desperate need to belong, and I recently found a spiritual successor in the excellent The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle. Strange and sad, and just on the cusp of the unreal, it made me feel like a teenager again, with all the horror and glory that implies.

Dave Rudden's The Forever Court is published by Puffin

Eilis Barrett

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater is the first in a series of four gloriously strange magical realism books. Whatever you're expecting going into this book, it's still going to take you by surprise. Maggie Stiefvater's writing style is weird and wonderful as she tells the story of Blue Sargent, product of a family of psychics, and how she's pulled into the inner circle of a group of boarding-school boys, their lives and their search for a dead Welsh king.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (and its sequel… and its finale) is everything you need in a book - sassy characters, not so terrifying monsters, yet so terrifying angels and Prague. The world building is something magical in itself, and accompanied by some of my favourite characters ever, and lyrical prose that would put poets to shame, author Laini Taylor has won my heart and loyalty forever.

The Archived was the first Victoria Schwab book I ever read, and therefore will always have a special place in my heart. With Victoria's usual brilliance, she conjures up a world in which death isn't exactly what you think it is. Mackenzie is a Keeper, one of those tasked to keep Histories - the bodies of those who have died, and the memories stored within them - from escaping the Archive.

Returning often violent histories to where they belong is hard enough, but it's even harder when it's dredging up memories of not only your dead grandfather, but your little brother as well. The Archived is twisty, faced-paced and slightly unsettling - what else could you ask for in a book?

Eilis Barrett is author of Oasis (Gill Books) and its sequel Genesis is out in September

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