Children’s books: from JFK in Ireland to Norse legends
A collaboration between PJ Lynch and Ryan Tubridy serves up JFK’s visit with Swiss roll
Patrick and the President (Walker Books, £12.99) is a collaboration between the current Laureate na nÓg, PJ Lynch, and broadcaster Ryan Tubridy. It tells the story of John F Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in 1963 through the eyes of a young boy, Patrick.
Legends new and old, historical and mythical, are at the heart of a series of new releases by high-profile Irish authors this month. Patrick and the President (Walker Books, £12.99) is a collaboration between the current Laureate na nÓg, PJ Lynch, and broadcaster Ryan Tubridy. It tells the story of John F Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in 1963 through the eyes of a young boy, Patrick, who is caught up in the celebrations in Kennedy’s ancestral home. He has to sing for the president with his school choir, but he is also charged with slicing and personally serving him Swiss roll. Lynch’s illustrations are suffused with a nostalgic hue, evoking old advertisements from the 1960s, and his expressive characters are brought to life with painterly, photorealistic skill. Tubridy adds historical richness with a light touch, selecting details that may excite young readers more than JFK might – the moon landing, X-ray specs – but he also includes a full timeline of events at the end for those looking for more context. If you can’t quite imagine Patrick and the President being picked up independently by children, it would be a perfect opportunity for adult readers who may remember the event as vividly as it is recreated by Lynch and Tubridy to share their own memories of the time.
If only Grumps, the ailing grandfather in Emma Donoghue’s first novel for younger readers, The Lotterys Plus One (Macmillan, £10.99), had a book like Patrick and the President at his disposal, it might have helped him connect with the “raggle-taggle, multiculticrew” that are his gaggle of grandchildren, the “hippy-dippy” Lotterys. The story of how conservative Grumps comes to live in the sprawling liberal homestead of the Lotterys is narrated by nine-year-old Sumac, “the Lotterys’ good girl, the practical one, the helper, the one who solves problems instead of causing them”. Sumac doesn’t have the skills, however, to deal with the latest member of their family, who has been recently diagnosed with dementia. Donoghue, whose most famous character – Jack from Room – is a five year old, inhabits Sumac’s world with relish. She has particular fun with the linguistic malapropisms of childhood, which have a unique sense of their own. The conflict at the heart of the book is one of worldviews: Grumps’s struggle to come to terms with the two same-sex couples who are parents to nine children from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds; their vegetarianism and homeschooling ways. However, the emotional journey offers a lesson in empathy that will resonate with real-life problems in an eight-to 11 year old’s world. As difficult as life is for Sumac, by the end of the book she realises the world is a much scarier place for her grandfather.
Life is also pretty frightening for 12-year-old Legend Hunter Finn, the hero of Shane Hegarty’s series Darkmouth, who faces graver danger than ever before in Hero Rising (Harper Collins, £12.99), the fourth instalment of Hegarty’s best-selling fantasy novels for nine-to-12 year olds. Finn’s previous exploits with his best friend and sidekick, Emmie, have involved battling a Minotaur and rescuing his father from the Infested Side. In Hero Rising he finds himself homeless and hopeless, until he is recruited to save a Legend, who may be able to save Darkmouth from the clutches of Lucien, an evil Legend Hunter masquerading as the town’s saviour. The dangers Finn faces include several near-brushes with death and several near-misses with the all-expunging dessicator fluid, but Hegarty ensures the real sense of risk is levelled by comedy. The plot moves quickly with a cinematic flow that will titillate readers who are waiting for the film version of Darkmouth, which begins shooting this summer, to bring Hegarty’s world to life on the big screen.
Writer and illustrator Joe Todd Stanton brings to life more familiar legends in Arthur and The Golden Rope (Flying Eye Books, £12.99), the first in a series called Brownstone’s Mythical Collection, which narrates the legends of the Norse World through the eyes of “the unlikeliest of heroes”, the bespectacled, mischievous “meddler” Arthur, who sets out to ask Thor, God of the Skies, to rekindle the great fire of his village. Luckily, he has acquired many magic tools on his adventures: the Hand of Time, which will freeze an enemy; an enchanted staff gifted by goblins; and a feather of protection. Presented in panelled graphic novel format, Brownstone’s ancient world is full of exquisite visual detail, with round-faced, naive characters that call to mind the great Tove Jannson. The child-guide Arthur makes the original Norse myths more accessible than straightforward tellings, and the promise of more adventures from the Brownstone collection is welcome. Readers seven-plus will enjoy the simple language and detailed descriptions, but anyone younger will probably need help with the small text. Younger readers, however, will have no problem piecing together the narrative of danger and mystery from the pictures alone.
Stanton’s The Secret of Black Rock (Flying Eye Books, £11.99), meanwhile, offers an original adventure in a more classic picturebook format that a three-plus audience will enjoy. It charts the journey of a young girl called Erin as she sets out to save the Black Rock, who is not, as legends have it, “as big as a mountain and as sharp as a swordfish”, but a living creature that has protected some of the sea’s most vulnerable organisms for millennia. The layers of ocean life and the benign Black Rock are beautifully rendered in this wonderfully tactile hardback, while the gently delivered environmental message adds a welcome real-life depth to the modern mythic tale.