Monday 19 August 2019

Books: Magical ways to help mind the chislers

Sarah Webb's guide to titles that will make the best presents for young readers

On the up: Sales of children’s books continue to rise with some breakout Irish literary stars to the fore this year
On the up: Sales of children’s books continue to rise with some breakout Irish literary stars to the fore this year
Asking For It, by Louise O'Neill.
Demon Road, by Derek Landy.
One, by Sarah Crossan.
The Day The Crayons Came Home.
The Thing About Jellyfish.

It's been an exceptional year for children's books. Irish picture book makers like Oliver Jeffers and Yasmeen Ismail are going from strength to strength and we have a new YA (young adult) international literary superstar in the form of hard working Clonakilty woman, Louise O'Neill. There has been much talk of the demise of books over the past few years, but sales of children's books continue to rise. I've gathered together my favourite books of the year and I hope you find something to entertain, enlighten and inspire every child or teenager in your life.

Belfast man, Oliver Jeffers' latest picture book, The Day the Crayons Came Home, written by Drew Daywalt (HarperCollins €19.50), is a joyously funny tale about the adventures of lost, forgotten and broken crayons with exceptional, highly original mixed-media illustrations. My picture book of 2015 for its clever combination of great storytelling, originality and wit. Age 4+.

Yasmeen Ismail's I'm a Girl! (Bloomsbury €16.50) is a celebration of being yourself, with spirited watercolour illustrations, and Nicola's Colton's A Dublin Fairytale (O'Brien €12.99) is a playful and colourful retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, Irish style.

Information books are enjoying a renaissance and Shackleton's Journey by William Grill (Flying Eye Books €22.50), chronicles the epic voyage in wonderfully immersive spreads. The unusual colour pencil illustrations are exceptional. Colouring books are a big trend this season and there is a companion activity book (€14.99). Both for age 7+.

The winner of the Ryan Tubridy Show Listeners' Choice Award at this week's Irish Book Awards, Irelandopedia by Fatti and John Burke (Gill and Macmillan €32.50), brings Ireland alive in a stylish and clever way. Each spread of this attractive hardback is packed with information about the 32 countries and it would make the perfect present for an Irish child living overseas. Age 5+.

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower is the first book both written and illustrated by award winning Irish illustrator, PJ Lynch (Walker Books €15.99). Based on the true story of John Howland, who helped found Plymouth Colony, its stormy Atlantic seascapes are magnificent. Age 6+.

Also a winner at the Book Awards this week (taking the Specsaver's Children's Book of the Year (Junior) award), Imaginary Fred combines two giants of children's books, our current Irish Children's Laureate, Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins €17.99). A heart-felt ode to friendship and the power of the imagination, with deceptively simple line-drawings. Age 6+.

Confident readers of seven plus will love Pugs of the Frozen North by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre (Oxford University Press €13.50). Orphan Shen is abandoned with only 66 pugs for company. Sika steps in to look after him and together they enter the Race to the Top of the World using pug-power to pull their sled. A funny, fast-paced story with clever cartoon-style illustrations.

Older readers of eight plus will enjoy dipping in and out of Once Upon a Place, edited by Eoin Colfer and illustrated by P J Lynch (Little Island Books €15.99), beautifully produced hardback featuring original short stories and poems from Irish writers. I'm proud to have a story in the mix, which sits beside pieces by Roddy Doyle, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick and Oisín McGann.

Fantasy readers of age 8+ will enjoy. Darkmouth: Worlds Explode by Shane Hegarty (HarperCollins €14.99). Set in the mist-swirling town of Darkmouth, the last Blighted Village in Ireland plagued by legends, mythical man-eating monsters, this book sees Finn trying to save his father, Hugo who is trapped on 'the Infected Side'. Confident readers will also enjoy E R Murray's original and action packed fantasy adventure, The Book of Learning (Mercier €9.99).

One of the biggest books of the season will be Grandpa's Great Escape by David Walliams (HarperCollins €19.50), a funny adventure yarn about 12-year-old Jack and his beloved grandpa, a fighter pilot in World War II who has been dumped in the old people's home from hell; and the new edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J K Rowling with stunning colour illustrations by Jim Kay (Bloomsbury €34.99) will be on many children and adults' Santa lists.

My novel of the year for age 10+ is The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (Macmillan €16.50), the kind of book you just want to hug it's so good. When Suzy's best friend Franny drowns, she's floored by anger, grief and guilt. Franny was a strong swimmer and Suzy is determined to prove that a lethal jellyfish was to blame but her marine research sets her off on an unexpected voyage of self-discovery.

Teen and Young Adult

It's also been an exceptional year for teen and YA (young adult) novels. One by Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury €10.99) is a novel in verse about 16-year-old conjoined twins, Grace and Tippi. It's a brave, compelling, unusual book that deserves to be read.

Irish writer, Maureen White's The Butterfly Shell (O'Brien Press €8.99) is about bullying, self-harm and resilience. Marie has just started attending an all-girls secondary school and her classmates are not making life easy for her. Meanwhile at home she hears the ghostly cries of a dead baby. A lyrically written and thoughtful debut.

If your teenager enjoys horror, Demon Road by Derek Landy is a good choice (HarperCollins €22.50). Book one in a new series about a 'normal' American teenager who turns out not to be so average after all, it powers along from its arresting opening line: 'Twelve hours before Amber Lamont's parents tried to kill her, she was sitting between them in the principal's office…'

Older teenagers who like John Green will love I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson (Walker Books €12.65), an immersive read about twins Noah and Jude and how they manage to piece their lives together after the death of their mother. This beautifully written and highly original novel uses art and sculpture to examine emotion and the creative process.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (Walker €19.50) is a clever coming of age story about being the 'other guy or girl' - not the hero or heroine, just a teenager trying to get on with his or her life.

And finally, Asking for It by Louise O'Neill (­Quercus €19.50) has become one of the most talked about books of the year. Emma O'Donovan is the Queen Bee of Ballinatoom. Her closest friends may be rich and privileged but Emma is the most popular and she knows it. But all that is about to change. An arresting, unflinching and deeply disturbing look at sexual consent and how society treats rape victims, it's an important book in both an Irish and an international context. This week it won the Specsaver's Children's Book of the Year (Senior) award at the Irish Book Awards,

Sarah Webb is a writer and children's book expert. Her latest book for children is Sunny Days and Mooncakes (Walker Books)

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