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Children’s books: All kinds of adventures with animals, and a tale about teaming up with a bully to foil a witch

Presenting terrific new works from Jon Agee, Kate Sheehy, Noel Fitzpatrick, Sinéad O’Hart, Katherine Rundell and Patricia Forde

Desiring a pet is a rite of passage for children. So it is for the protagonist of Jon Agee’s I Want a Dog (Scallywag Press, £7.99, 2+) who arrives at Happydale Animal Shelter looking for a canine companion, only to find that there are no dogs at the refuge at all. There are awesome anteaters, baby baboons, frogs, snakes, dead goldfish even. But “loyal, loving, smart, cuddly, goofy, courageous” dogs? Not even one. There is a seal called Lucinda, however, who might just meet the same expectations. Agee’s illustrations use visual humour to complement the story’s absurdity, as we watch the owner of the shelter get more and more desperate to please his young customer. This is a delightfully amusing story, which brings to life both pet and pester power for young readers.

Lily, the star of Too Many Cats by Kate Sheehy (O’Brien Press, €12.99), favours felines over canine companions. Cats are “cute ... cuddly ... clean ... and clever”. Lily would have a whole house full of cats if she had her way and, wily girl, she thinks of an ingenious way to ensure she gets it. Soon her house is overrun with the fluffy pets she desires. There are cats in the cupboards, cats on the clothesline, cats under the stairs: it’s a “cat-astrophe”.

Thankfully, there’s a gingery collie next door to help Lily deal with the overflow; it turns out dogs are not so bad after all. Sheehy’s silly story has a fairy-tale moral – “be careful what you wish for” – but it is the clowder of cats that young readers will really love this book for, as they follow the tabbies and tomcats across the pages. At our house, the young readers enjoyed naming them all, and loved the Missing Posters that served as the book’s endpapers, where Sheehy matches her expressive sketches with funny monikers that evoke mischievous identities for the feline crew.

For young animal lovers more interested in fact than fiction, Noel Fitzpatrick’s The Super Pets and Me (Wren and Rook, £12.99, 8+) is packed full of tips for how to look after the animals who live in your homes. The celebrity animal doctor recalls the many brave animals he has worked with over his career, from a pair of cats he fitted with bionic front limbs to an injured cockapoo to whom he gave a skateboard wheel for a paw, and how scientific discoveries in medicine can be used to improve the life of animals too. Fitzpatrick uses his own experiences to diagnose the bond between human and animal life that is at the root of children’s attraction to the idea of pets, while Emily Gravett’s pencil drawings illustrate both the anatomy and environment of some of our favourite creatures.


You won’t find cats or dogs or any domesticated animals in Katherine Rundell’s stunning new fantasy novel Impossible Creatures (Bloomsbury, £14.99), which unearths the Archipelago, a cluster of islands in the Atlantic Ocean just hidden from our view, where mythical beings still live and magic is still possible. Christopher, visiting his grandfather in Scotland, discovers he is one of the guardians of the way between both worlds, and that the “impossible creatures” are in danger.

As Christopher begins to explore ways to save the hidden world from disappearing, he encounters Mal, a girl with magic powers, who is running away from the very same threat that the fabulous beasts are. Mal has access to the secrets of the Archipelago and the casaparasan – a magical compass – that might be the key to self- and world-preservation. They team up, hoping that, between them, they will find a way to save the world.

Rundell brings her singular intelligence to this new story, which pays homage to Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy and JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. However, the work is also wholly original, and the split narrative device brings an urgency to the storytelling that will have readers gripped from the get-go.

Sinéad O’Hart’s The Silver Road (Piccadilly Press, £7.99) also centres on a battle between two worlds, and the preservation of Old Magic from destruction. Set in the northern counties of Ireland, its protagonist is clever, bookish Rosaleen Darke, who is unhappy at her new school. When she is teamed up with the class bully for a science project, the collaboration seems fated for disaster. It ends up having life or death consequences that run counter to scientific fact. Together Rose and her arch-enemy Emer must work together to defeat the evil Cethlenn, the witch who seeks to rid the world of goodness. O’Hart takes her inspiration from Irish myth for a story that brings new life to characters from familiar Irish folk tales through a modern tale of personal survival. A glossary at the end adds cultural depth to the tale, explaining the etymology of certain Irish words and the history behind the folktales.

Finally, An Mac Tíre Deireanach is a new short Irish language historical novel from Laureate na nÓg Patricia Forde, which finds young Úna trína chéile as she seeks to protect the last wolf in Ireland from Oliver Cromwell and his soldiers. Short caibidilí and explanatory notes that explain idioms in simpler language make this an accessible first novel for both the fluent Gaeilgeoir and the mature primary school student.

Sara Keating

Sara Keating

Sara Keating, a contributor to The Irish Times, is an arts and features writer