The Fox’s Tower
By Sam Thompson. Little Island. 10+
“If wolves were the best, then humans were the worst”, thinks Willow’s dad, Silas. However, when Willow sees him dragged off into the forest by a fearsome lupin beast one night, she must discover for herself which animals in nature can be trusted. A loose sequel to Wolfstongue, Thompson has created characters from the animal kingdom whose desires have a fabular quality, with important lessons about power and corruption that translate to the world of humankind.
By Jess McGeachin. Allen and Unwin. 3+
In this nonfiction picture book that plays with the meaning of the word ‘kind’, Jess McGeachin introduces young readers to the idea of variety in nature, as well as the importance of caring for endangered creatures and each other. A spare rhyming story is perfect for shared reading, while the illustrations offer rich engagement for independent visual stimulation.
The Ministry of Unladylike Activity
By Robin Stevens. Penguin. 10+
“Evil can look like anything”, May Wong discovers when she sniffs out the trail of a Nazi spy in 1940′s England. The first in a new series from Robin Stevens, of Murder Most Unladylike fame, this offers the same page-turning hooks and passionate protagonist as previous books, with a high-stakes backdrop of the second World War. A brilliant murder mystery.
The Ape Star
By Frida Nilsson. Gecko Press. 8+
Jonna is an orphan adopted by an ape “with the world’s worst sense of order”. Jonna’s fear of the Other soon becomes pride and even affection for her new scrapyard Simian mum, who has an unparalleled, infectious sense of adventure. Quirky characters make this a truly unusual coming-of-age tale.
Once Upon a Fairytale
By Natalia O’Hara. Illustrated by Lauren O’Hara. Walker Books. 3+
An ingenious reinvention of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure genre in picture form, this collaboration from the O’Hara sisters casts young readers as heroes in a mould of their own fancying. Gingerbread Man or Gentle Knight: the reader gets the choice. Gorgeous watercolour illustrations make each potential avenue for exploration as attractive as the next. A book to be read and reread at bedtime.
The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries: Drama and Danger
By JT Williams. Farshore. 10+
An unusual historical scenario sets this dramatic mystery novel apart in a crowded genre. Lizzie Sancho and Dido Belle are as different as chalk and cheese. One works in a teashop; the other lives the life of a lady. Black British Georgian history is effectively brought to life through characters based on real people, but it is the suspense and plot twists that keep the pages turning.
This article is part of our guide to the Irish Times books of the year. Follow one of these links to read Malachy Clerkin on sports books / Tony Clayton-Lea on music books / Rory Kiberd on nonfiction books / Adrian Duncan on art books / Seán Hewitt and Martina Evans on poetry /Niamh Donnelly on fiction / Jane Casey on crime fiction / Claire Hennessy on young-adult fiction / Anne Enright, Colm Tóibín, Fintan O’Toole and more on their books of the year