Children’s Books Ireland award winners revealed

Deirdre Sullivan, Karen Vaughan, Pádraig Kenny and Oein DeBhairduin honoured

Deirdre Sullivan who, together with Karen Vaughan, is winner of the Book of the Year Award for Savage Her Reply. Photograph: Diarmuid O’Brien.

A feminist retelling of the timeless legend of The Children of Lir, a queer coming-of-age story and a book of tales rooted in Traveller culture are among the winners at this year’s KPMG Children’s Books Ireland awards.

The winners were announced today in a ceremony hosted by broadcaster Rick O’Shea and shared online as part of the International Literature Festival Dublin.

Book of the year award winner: Deirdre Sullivan and Karen Vaughan for Savage Her Reply
Honour award for fiction winner: Pádraig Kenny for The Monsters of Rookhaven
Honour award for illustration winner: PJ Lynch for The Haunted Lake
Eilís Dillon award winner: Oein DeBhairduin for Why the Moon Travels
The judges' special award winner: Oein DeBhairduin and Leanne McDonagh for Why the Moon Travels
The junior juries' award winner: Ciara Smyth for The Falling in Love Montage

Karen Vaughan who, together with Deirdre Sullivan, is winner of the Book of the Year Award for Savage Her Reply.

Galway-born author Deirdre Sullivan and Dublin-based illustrator Karen Vaughan have jointly won the Book of the Year Award for Savage Her Reply, a haunting reimagining of the Irish legend of The Children of Lir for young adult readers. Judges praised Sullivan’s wonderfully lyrical prose, describing the book as “a tense and haunting tale that explores heartache, loss and forgiveness, while giving voice to a woman silenced for generations”. This is the second Book of the Year Award win for the duo, whose previous title together, Tangleweed and Brine, was awarded the overall prize in 2018.


Sullivan said: “It means a huge amount as a writer to receive recognition from an organisation like Children’s Books Ireland that does such necessary and powerful work for Ireland’s young readers. Savage Her Reply was a book that allowed me to interrogate old stories, but also to connect with them and the vast amount they still have to offer us. Aífe’s isolation from the world around her, her struggles with her mental health and the abuse she experiences as a young woman are oddly prescient right now.”

Vaughan said: “Being recognised by Children’s Books Ireland, an organisation that not only works relentlessly to instill a love of reading in children but champions Irish illustrators and authors is such an enormous honour. The experience of working on a book as fierce, tender, and human as Savage Her Reply is something I’ll treasure.”

Kildare author Pádraig Kenny received this year’s Honour Award for Fiction for The Monsters of Rookhaven, a dark and immersive adventure that explores ideas of acceptance, tolerance and true friendship. It tells the story of a young monster who lives in a mansion protected from the outside world – until two humans stumble into her life. Judges commented on Kenny’s gripping narrative, “which draws upon established gothic and horror motifs in providing readers with an utterly original adventure”.

Former Laureate na nÓg PJ Lynch is the recipient of the Honour Award for Illustration for The Haunted Lake, a picturebook that takes readers on a journey to a ghostly otherworld. Judges noted that “this tale of love, loss and perseverance is told by Lynch through words and masterful illustrations” that transport the reader from the world of the living to the eerie depths of the town that lies beneath the lake. This is the sixth win for Belfast-born Lynch, who won in 2014, 1998, 1995 and 1990 and received the overall Book of the Year Award in 1996 for his artwork in The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, written by Susan Wojciechowski.

The Eilís Dillon Award, named in honour of the revered Irish children’s author and which recognises an outstanding first book for children and young people, goes to Galway-born Mincéir author and storyteller Oein DeBhairduin for Why the Moon Travels – 20 folk tales from the Irish Traveller community – illustrated by Leanne McDonagh, a young Traveller woman from Co Cork.

Judges remarked that, “in these stories, this world and the otherworld are intertwined, the personal is often used to explore the universal, and storytelling becomes a means of making sense of our surroundings”. Why the Moon Travels has also received the Judges’ Special Recognition Award, with the judging panel praising it as “a beautifully written and ground-breaking book, which celebrates and shares a rich tradition that may be unfamiliar to many readers”.

Chair of the judging panel, Dr Pádraic Whyte, said, “Congratulations to all the amazing illustrators and writers who have won awards today. This is an important – and wonderful – celebration of contemporary Irish children’s literature, a recognition of some of the incredible works being created for younger readers. This eclectic mix of material will inspire and challenge readers for years to come.”

Ciara Smyth, winner of the Junior Juries’ Award for The Falling in Love Montage. Photograph: Julien Behal

The Junior Juries’ Award, given to the book which receives the highest score from Junior Juries around the island, goes to The Falling in Love Montage, Ciara Smyth’s brilliantly witty, clever and funny coming-of-age narrative centred on a young protagonist with a clear and distinctive voice.

The KPMG Reading Hero Award was presented to Dean Porter, age 11, from Drumfries, Co Donegal, who was nominated by his teacher, Róisín Walsh, at Scoil Naomh Pádraig, who said, “As soon as I read about the award, Dean popped into my mind as he is one of the most avid readers I have ever had the privilege to teach in my more than 30 years experience.”

Dean has an extraodinary passion for books and reading, a passion that has seen him through the past three years during which he has been attending Crumlin hospital in Dublin. “Dean had a serious operation for scoliosis and missed school for a number of months,” said Walsh. “However, he kept reading and kept reading and when he returned full time to the classroom, there were virtually no gaps in his education.”

CEO of Children’s Books Ireland, Elaina Ryan, said, “We are proud to recognise the excellent work of all our shortlisted authors and illustrators, whose work has comforted, excited and absorbed readers through an extremely difficult year. Karen Vaughan and Deirdre Sullivan’s retelling of a classic folk tale from a feminist perspective gives voice and power to women whose stories have not traditionally been heard. We are also especially glad that Why The Moon Travels, Oein DeBhairduin and Leanne McDonagh’s book of tales rooted in Traveller culture, is honoured with two awards; let this herald a new era of inclusion for all artists and be an inspiration to young writers in the Traveller community and other underrepresented groups all over Ireland.”

KPMG Managing Partner, Seamus Hand, said, “At KPMG, we’re really pleased to continue to support the Reading Hero Award. This year in particular, these awards are even more important than ever. With children out of school because of the pandemic, education was disrupted which reinforced our view that learning and literacy needs to be supported at every opportunity. I really believe that reading is the foundation of education and its importance from a young age cannot be overstated.”