Ten best Irish children’s books of 2019 revealed
Read judges’ comments on KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards shortlisted titles
The 10 titles shortlisted for this year’s KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards with students from St Audeon’s National School, Dublin. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
The 10 titles shortlisted for this year’s KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards have been revealed today at the MAC Theatre, Belfast as part of Belfast Children’s Festival. These awards, founded 30 years ago, are the most prestigious awards for children’s books in Ireland and are a celebration of Irish writing and illustration for younger people.
The six winners will be announced on May 19th at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre by broadcaster Rick O’Shea as part of International Literature Festival Dublin.
The shortlisted titles are:
All The Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Madame Badobedah by Sophie Dahl and illustrated by Lauren O’Hara
Mór agus Muilc based on a traditional tale told by John Óg Hiúdaí Neidí Ó Colla and illustrated by Kim Sharkey
Nóinín by Máire Zepf
The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan
The Hug by Eoin McLaughlin and illustrated by Polly Dunbar
The Tide by Clare Helen Welsh and illustrated by Ashling Lindsay
The Star-Spun Web by Sinéad O’Hart
Toffee by Sarah Crossan
Scúnc agus Smúirín by Muireann Ní Chíobháin and illustrated by Paddy Donnelly
The shortlist includes four books published by independent Irish publishers, three written in Irish, three verse novels and a spread of books for all ages, including picturebooks up to young adult novels.
For the youngest readers The Hug is a story of two creatures in need of a hug, a tortoise with a hard shell and a hedgehog with prickly pins. Scúnc agus Smúirín tells the story of a young skunk’s distress when his favourite teddy loses its special smell after a spell in the washing machine.
Titles for older readers include Nóinín, a gripping verse novel that depicts the online grooming of a shy teenage girl and the slow build-up to a shocking crime, with rich imagery, poetic language and references to Irish myth lending resonance to a very modern tale of the dangers of social media. All the Bad Apples is a powerful story tracing trauma through three generations, drawing on dark aspects of Ireland’s history relating to attitudes towards female sexuality.
Two shortlisted books, one for younger readers and one for older, deal with dementia: The Tide, a poignant portrayal of a young girl coming to an understanding of her grandfather’s memory loss, is uplifting and enlightening for child and adult readers alike.
Toffee, a verse novel for older readers by Laureate na nÓg Sarah Crossan is a masterful, lyrical and moving portrayal of the relationship between a teenage girl who has run away from her abusive father, and an elderly woman with dementia, who mistakes her for a close childhood friend. The third verse novel on the shortlist, The Deepest Breath, explores important themes relating to anxiety, emerging sexual identity, friendship and love, capturing the fragile voice of an 11-year-old girl, whose feelings for her friend both excite and confuse her.
The Star-Spun Web is a rollercoaster steampunk-sci-fi fantasy adventure that features an extraordinary heroine with a special talent for science, her endearing pet tarantula and a colourful cast of unforgettable characters, including her male double in a parallel world.
Madame Badobedah by Sophie Dahl and illustrated by Lauren O’Hara tells the story of an unlikely friendship that develops between an eccentric elderly lady with a mysterious past who comes to stay at The Mermaid Hotel, and the curious young daughter of the hotel owner, who spots an opportunity for honing her skills in espionage. Last but far from least, Mór agus Muilc is a stunning retelling in picture and text of an unusual and dark tale from the oral Irish storytelling tradition as passed down by John Óg Hiúdaí Neidí Ó Colla of Gaoth Dobhair (now deceased) and illustrated by Kim Sharkey.
Children’s Books Ireland, which administers the awards, will as ever be working closely with “junior juries” – groups of children and young people who will read and judge the shortlisted titles. The juries’ scores decide the winner of the Junior Juries Award, giving children a real way to participate in the awards and make their voices heard. Tyrone Productions will be helping Children’s Books Ireland film groups of young readers around the country, with their opinions screened at the awards ceremony in May and available on YouTube thereafter.
Five other awards will also be made - The Book of the Year Award, The Honour Awards for Fiction and Illustration, the Judges’ Special Award, and the Eilís Dillon Award for a first children’s book, named in honour of the revered Irish children’s author Eilís Dillon, whose birth centenary was on March 7th of this year.
Dr Ciara Ní Bhroin, chair of the judging panel, said: “This has been a bumper year for Irish children’s books both in terms of quantity and quality. The shortlist presented here showcases excellence in writing and illustration for young people and highlights the essential role that authors and illustrators play in offering young people intellectual, emotional, aesthetic and imaginative experiences that illuminate and enhance their lives, while contributing to a rich literary and cultural heritage that we can proudly share with the wider world.”
Elaina Ryan, CEO of Children’s Books Ireland, said: “As we celebrate the 30th year of the awards, the quality of the shortlist is as high as it has ever been, and reflects the ever-evolving canon of excellent work produced by Irish artists. The presence of multiple verse novels and a strong spread of Irish language books for all ages is significant: there will be something on the shortlist to appeal to readers of all ages, interests and abilities.”
Johnny Hanna, partner-in-charge, KPMG in Belfast, stated: “We’re delighted to partner with Children’s Books Ireland in supporting these awards and promoting the value of literacy. I know that reading is the foundation of education and the importance of reading for kids right across Northern Ireland cannot be overstated. It is one of the keys that unlocks the door to improved education and indeed employment opportunities.”
The KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards recognise excellence in writing and illustration in Irish or English and are open to books by authors and illustrators who were born in Ireland, are permanently resident in Ireland or are citizens of Ireland and which were published between January 1st and December 31st each year.
Founded in 1990, the Awards are the leading children’s book awards in Ireland. Each year a panel of judges read all of the books submitted by publishers, some 98 titles in 2019, and a shortlist of 10 is announced in March, with the final awards ceremony taking place in May. Previous winners include Kelly McCaughrain for Flying Tips for Flightless Birds; Deirdre Sullivan and Karen Vaughan for Tangleweed and Brine; Sarah Crossan for One; Oliver Jeffers for Once upon an Alphabet; John Boyne for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas; Sheena Wilkinson for Grounded; and Kate Thompson for The New Policeman, Annan Water and The Alchemist’s Apprentice.
The KPMG Awards and Junior Juries programme are kindly supported by the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Ecclesiastical Movement for Good Awards.
Judges’ comments on each shortlisted title:
ALL THE BAD APPLES
An atmospheric and powerful story tracing trauma through three generations of the same family. Alternating between the contemporary first-person narrative of Deena and the haunting story of her ancestors, it draws on dark aspects of Ireland’s history that have come to light in recent years relating to attitudes towards female sexuality and callous treatment of single mothers and their babies by the Catholic Church and wider society. After disastrously coming out to her family, Deena embarks on a road trip with friends in a quest that leads her to find her mother, her own voice and, ultimately, freedom from the family curse. The apple motif is cleverly woven into the story, in which themes of witchcraft and healing are linked with female agency and power.
Sophie Dahl and Lauren O’Hara
When an eccentric elderly lady with a mysterious past comes to stay at The Mermaid Hotel, the curious young daughter of the owners sees an opportunity for honing her skills in espionage. An unlikely friendship develops between the pair, leading to a shared fantastical adventure. Lauren O’Hara’s lively and characterful illustrations include wonderfully detailed double spreads and humorous vignettes that perfectly complement this intriguing tale of first impressions, friendship and the power of imagination.
MÓR AGUS MUILC
John Óg Hiúdaí Neidí Ó Colla and Kim Sharkey
This is a stunning retelling in picture and text of an unusual and dark tale from oral Irish culture. The rhythmic repetition of dialogue as each new character is encountered and the beautiful curving lines in the sumptuous and evocative illustrations perfectly capture the circularity of the cumulative tale. A hypnotic sense of movement is created as a growing cast of wonderfully named characters join the elongated Mór and the jester-like Muilc in a dance towards their doom. Stylish, quirky and admirably faithful to the oral tradition.
A compelling verse novel that depicts, with beguiling subtlety and nuance, the online grooming of a shy teenage girl, the slow build-up to a shocking crime and the aftermath from the perspective of her best friend. The insidious nature of grooming through flattery, exploitation of teenage insecurities and isolation from friends is very convincingly portrayed. The effects of violent crime on the family and friends of the victim are shown and questions of blame considered, but the novel ends with an empowering manifesto on the right of young girls to full life and liberty. Rich imagery, poetic language and intertextual references to fairy tales and Irish myth lend resonance to this very modern and accessible tale of the dangers of social media. An artful and gripping narrative that will reward multiple re-readings.
THE DEEPEST BREATH
Little Island Books
A thoughtful, exquisitely gentle and heart-rending verse novel that explores with a superb lightness of touch important themes relating to anxiety, emerging sexual identity, friendship and love. The lyrical narrative captures with great delicacy the fragile voice of an eleven-year-old girl, whose feelings for her friend both excite and confuse her, as she seeks understanding and affirmation from her mother. The motif of water, of drowning and breathing, lends a dreamy atmosphere to this tender, courageous and ultimately uplifting story.
Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar
Faber & Faber
A charming picturebook of novel design that can be read from either end and concludes in the middle. Tortoise and Hedgehog, each lonely and in need of a hug, embark on separate quests that end when they happen upon each other. Tortoise’s hard shell and Hedgehog’s prickly pins do not deter the pair from hugging in a heart-warming double spread at the centre of the book. The texture, colours and facial expressions of the animal characters are superbly rendered, with pictures by Polly Dunbar and text by Eoin McLaughlin working in perfect tandem to engage and delight young readers.
Clare Helen Welsh and Ashling Lindsay
Little Tiger Press
This poignant portrayal of a young girl coming to an understanding of her grandfather’s memory loss is uplifting and enlightening for child and adult readers alike. Exquisitely illustrated with a warm palette and a keen eye for pattern, its gentle rhythms mirror the ebb and flow of the tide and the passage of time. A stunning double spread depicting the pair dancing in the orange glow of the full tide at sunset creates a glorious sense of harmony that assuages earlier moments of disquiet, while the warm presence of the mother, who features in most of the illustrations, provides reassurance and comfort throughout. An evocative portrait of intergenerational bonds.
THE STAR-SPUN WEB
This distinctive steampunk-sci-fi fantasy adventure features an extraordinary heroine with a special talent for science, her endearing pet tarantula, a strange device that enables her to access other worlds and a colourful cast of unforgettable characters, including her male double in a parallel world. From the mysterious opening to the dramatic denouement, readers are brought on a rollercoaster journey of scientific exploration, intrigue, treachery and mortal danger. A captivating and original story that will excite and enthral young readers.
A lyrical and moving portrayal of the relationship between a teenage girl, who has run away from her abusive father, and an elderly woman with dementia, who mistakes her for a close childhood friend. Every note in this first person verse narrative rings true. Each poem is a gem in itself and they combine in a series of vignettes, employing a subtle interplay between information given and deferred that allows space for readers to reflect while savouring the beauty of the language. Through deft storytelling and masterful characterisation, complex themes of identity, child and elder abuse, memory loss, loneliness and connection are explored with sensitivity, honesty, warmth and respect.
SCÚNC AGUS SMÚIRÍN
Muireann Ní Chíobháin and Paddy Donnelly
When Scúnc finds his missing Teddy, he is dismayed to discover that its special smell has been eradicated by a spell in the washing machine. After much searching and sniffing, Scúnc makes the happy discovery that Teddy’s smell came from his mother’s hugs, so lots of hugging of Teddy will be required for the comforting smell to be regained. It is unusual to feature skunks as main characters in a picturebook and much is made in the illustrations of their comic indifference to the repulsion that their odour arouses in other animal characters trying to give them a wide berth. A warm, humorous and highly engaging celebration of love between mother and child.