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Best new children’s fiction, from a fairy disguised as a rabbit to a boy who turns into a dinosaur

Valuable offerings from Edwina Guckian, Sinéad O’Hart, Shane Hegarty, Jen Wallace and more

Easter is over for another year, but tell me, did you gather at the crossroads for a cake dance after collecting your eggs? This is just one of the traditions that Edwina Guckian illuminates in Sparks from the Flagstone: Irish Folk Traditions and Calendar Customs (Lepus Print, €23, 3+), a glossy hardback almanac, illustrated by Andrea Rossi.

The book blends personal experience and historical research to offer a traditional and culturally-specific perspective on customs we still observe today but may not understand why: from the hanging of Brigid’s crosses above the doorway to the breaking of eggs for pancakes (the licking of a lizard is an optional extra).

Organised in line with the seasons, the book is chock-a-block with fascinating forgotten details and superstitions that are both serious and silly. Sparks from the Flagstone lends itself particularly well to intergenerational sharing, where parents, grandparents and caregivers can pass down their own piseogs to young readers.

Speaking of folk magic, there are dark spells being cast in Lola and Larch Fix a Fairy Forest (Nosy Crow, £6.99, 6+), a fantastic new starter chapter-book series from Sinéad O’Hart, illustrated by Rachel Seago. Its main character is animal-loving Lola, who finds a rabbit that turns out to be a fairy in disguise.


Readers who are expecting a sprightly pink sparkle from Lola’s enchanted costar will be immediately surprised. Larch isn’t your stereotypical fairy: she is green and grumpy and always in trouble. But she’s not quite as bad as the evil Euphorbia Spurge, who is threatening Larch’s magical land.

There are various levels of adventure and surprise in O’Hart’s slim 120-page story, where the literary flair (and occasionally gross meals) never overwhelm the clarity. Seggo’s black and white pictures are also generously spread across short chapters, which are the perfect length for the newly-independent reader.

Dinosaur Pie (Little Island, £7.99, 6+) by debut author Jen Wallace is another starter chapter-book, with a wacky storyline and a comic thrust. A food poisoning incident has turned Rory into Roary: a miniature dinosaur. His friends Oleg and Daria are happy to accept his new eccentricity, but it’s impossible to play video games with claws, so together they set out to try to find the antidote for Rory’s ornithomimal dilemma.

Despite the fantastical plot, Wallace’s story has lots of real-world context that readers will enjoy, especially children who find it difficult to sit still and be quiet. The large text and black and white illustrations from Alan O’Rourke, meanwhile, are an added incentive to take some time out from a busy brain with a book.

The Tree Who Sang to Me (Hodder, £7.99, 8+) by Serena Molloy, illustrated by George Ermow, has large text and a dyslexic-friendly layout that trails across the pages like a visual poem. It is a sensitive story about Kai, whose teenage sister, Jen, has distanced herself from their family. Kai misses her desperately, but can’t find the words to express his feelings, or to stand up for Caleb, whom the sporty boys are picking on at school.

Molloy has crafted an affecting tale of grief and difference, where the natural world offers peace, hope and stability, what a child really needs to find their voice. The Tree Who Sang to Me is a beautifully told story of resilience, perfect for fans of the popular British writer Katya Balen.

Dexter, the toddler at the centre of Shane Hegarty’s debut picture-book, is also missing something that’s important to him: his “Boo-Woo”. This rhyming lost-and-found tale has lots of fun with language, and the ambiguity of a Boo-Woo’s being: the police, the fire service, even the army find themselves confounded as they set off on a high-speed chase across town trying to find it in time for Dexter’s bedtime.

Ben Mantle’s glossy full-colour spreads, meanwhile, shine a spotlight on the faces of all characters, major and minor, suggesting a whole other story unfolding in the background of Dexter Lost his Boo-Woo (Hachette Children’s £12.99, 3+).

There is also something lurking in the shadows of Na Trí Mhuicín (Futa Fata, €12.99, 3+) by Áine Ní Ghlinn, with illustrations from Paddy Donnelly, another addition to the growing catalogue of brilliant Irish language fairytales from the Galway publisher. The story retains all its predictable elements, but Ní Ghlinn develops her own unique refrains through Irish language rhythm and rhyme, while Donnelly builds an entire world around the three porcine protagonists with his full-colour spreads. It is a joy to read aloud, even for non-native speakers.

Finally, O’Brien Press has just published a new translation by Patricia Nic Eoin of Eithne Massey’s popular collection of legends Finscéalta na hÉireann (O’Brien Press, €12.99, 5+), with artwork from Lisa Jackson. The book includes many familiar Irish tales, including The Children of Lir and Tír na nÓg., and would be a good companion piece to Legends of the Cliffs of Moher, a new compilation of site-specific tales, also illustrated by Jackson. Legends of the Cliffs of Moher (O’Brien Press, €12.99, 5+) brings readers on a journey around west Clare, from Hag’s Head, where Cúchulainn’s nemesis, Mal, met her death, to Kilmacreehy, where a giant péist is terrorising the village. Both books would be great companions for any family road trips as summer begins to approach.

Sara Keating

Sara Keating

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