Ryan Tubridy and PJ Lynch offer sneak preview of their JFK book

Children’s Books Ireland conference: Patrick and the President draws on Tubridy’s fascination with John F Kennedy’s Irish ties, the subject of his first book, JFK In Ireland

 

Every year hordes of children’s book professionals – authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishers, lecturers – gather to discuss children’s books. The annual Children’s Books Ireland conference is not a “how to write and get published” event, nor is it an academic conference laden with jargon. It is something in between and also more than that, reflecting the multi-disciplinary nature of children’s literature.

This year’s conference, which took place in the Lighthouse cinema, Smithfield, last weekend, featured many discussions on collaboration, with the theme being a somewhat Brexit-inspired Better Together? Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston discussed their work on A Child of Books, reviewed here in August, while broadcaster Ryan Tubridy and Laureate na nÓg PJ Lynch shared a sneak preview of their collaboration on a forthcoming picture book, Patrick and the President (Walker Books, March 2017).

The children’s book community in Ireland is a notoriously supportive and friendly one. However, like any group of humans, we have our moments, and when anyone with a “profile” announces they’re writing a children’s book, we can be sceptical – not least because so many people wrongly presume that a shorter text, for a younger audience, is easy to do. But Tubridy’s championing of books appears genuine; on the day he declared, “I wish I could write 10,000 children’s books.”

Patrick and the President draws on Tubridy’s fascination with John F Kennedy’s relationship with Ireland, the topic which led to his first book, JFK In Ireland, in 2010. It details the visit from the point of view of a small boy who hopes to meet the charismatic American president, but obstacles keep cropping up throughout the day. Tubridy eased into his role as interviewee quickly, after Lynch declared, “Right, Ryan, I’m interviewing you now”, lighting up with passion as he explained why the boy’s name is Patrick. After emigrating to the States and ascending in society, the name Patrick became less common, used as an initial if at all – to get into the clubs and play down their Irish heritage at a time when it offered far less kudos than it does today.

Shortly after his return to the States, Kennedy – enchanted by the country – named his premature son Patrick. The child died after only two days, but the name re-emerged in the Kennedy clan. The Irish connection was no longer a thing to be ashamed of. Kennedy said his four days in Ireland were the best in his life – certainly his gift for plámás was evident there.

PJ Lynch revealed that the boy he’d used as a model for the Patrick in the book is actually named Patrick - and a delighted Tubridy went on to confirm that the P in PJ did stand for Patrick also. “A proper Irish name!”

Tubridy himself also modelled for Lynch as he worked on the book, and has a cameo appearance as a reporter. Lynch doesn’t always use real people as models – for his illustrations for A Christmas Carol he made up Scrooge’s face entirely, though did admit to donning a dressing gown himself just to get the folds of the material spot on.

Thought-provoking audience questions led to a discussion of the Late Late Toy Show (“a television show from Mars” as Tubridy put it) and the sliver of time allocated to children’s books. What can the children’s literature community to campaign and advocate for more screen time for books – a slot that is already under threat? There were no easy answers forthcoming, but let’s hope that the power of collaboration inspires the community over the next few months – moving beyond those already advocating for children’s books into the wider world.

Claire Hennessy’s latest YA novel is Nothing Tastes As Good. She also works as an editor and creative writing facilitator

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