The gift of an Irish children’s book for a difficult Christmas

Children’s Books Ireland is gifting 6,000 books to children in direct provision, hospitals and homeless services

All over Ireland there are children who do not own a book. This December, Children’s Books Ireland is gifting a bedtime story to Irish children as they face into a difficult Christmas. With the support of the Arts Council and KPMG, 6,000 Irish books will be given to children and young people in direct-provision centres, hospitals and homeless services nationwide through charity partners including Barnardos, Focus Ireland, Children in Hospital Ireland and the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

All 6,000 books are by Irish artists, many of them Irish-published. Drawing on the riches in the Books Make Things Better reading guide, which highlights great new Irish books in English and as Gaeilge, Children's Books Ireland selected beautifully illustrated books whose stories transcend language or literacy barriers.

As well as making a difference in the lives of children, this gift is a boost to the literature sector as a whole – the publishers, artists and booksellers for whom this year has been incredibly challenging. Here, we hear writers’ and illustrators’ experiences of being published in 2020; support them if you can. Buy local and enjoy brilliant Irish books this Christmas.

Nicola Pierce
My fifth children's novel was released on March 9th. Chasing Ghosts, An Arctic Adventure concerns the doomed 1845 expedition to the Arctic to map out the final 300 miles of the fabled Northwest Passage. Over a hundred men and their two ships would never return.

I had five separate launches planned, which might seem conceited, but I had lost 2018 and 2019 to breast cancer. This book sustained me throughout treatment, prodding me against forgetting who I was and that I had a reason to get better. Those launches were to be a genuine celebration for finishing Chasing Ghosts and getting the all-clear. Chasing Ghosts was released on the Monday and the country went into lockdown on the Thursday. At 51 years, I have just about trained myself to find the positive in a situation. Oh, but, initially, I sank.

Six months later the book was keeping me afloat once more. When I was working on it, I had to imagine what it was like to be stuck on a ship for months on end, locked down by iced water. In other words, 175 years later, our 2020 lockdown makes the story relevant. My novel is now both historical and a reflection of what we have all been going through, worldwide. In the years to come, our lockdown literature will inform future generations how we coped in 2020.

Sarah Webb
At 25 I found myself the single but very proud mother of a newborn baby, Sam. I was running the children's department in Waterstones at the time and to cut a long story short, I needed money to buy a car to get Sam to and from his minders. Out of desperation, I rang Southside News and asked if I could write for them. The kind editor said yes. It gave me the confidence to try writing a children's book, which was taken on by the Children's Press after many other rejections.

Over 20 years later I have published close to 40 children’s books. I let my books make their own way in the world and I don’t put pressure on them to pay the bills. That way I can write the books that are in my heart, the ones that mean the most to me, not the ones that might pay the most.

My latest book, The One with the Waggly Tail, illustrated by Steve McCarthy, is a collection of rhymes, poems and songs. Rhymes and songs are part of every family’s history. They help create the story of who we are and where we come from. Sharing them with young children introduces babies and toddlers to a rich tapestry of sounds, words and rhythms. And to me that’s what children’s books are all about: exploring and sharing the story of who we are and where we came from.

My books are part of me and I am part of them. It’s there laid bare for all to see – what I care about most is in my books: family, friends, remarkable Irish women, whales, dogs, history, dreams, creativity, bravery, courage. Read them and you read me.

Lorraine Levis
As booksellers, people open up to us. Experiences of loss, feelings of confusion and hopelessness seep from them as they look for a book which might help them understand what they were going through. And then there is the children's section. A place of joy and hope and confusion all wrapped into one and I got to be at the centre of it. I would watch as children, who were assumed to be "quiet, bookish types" would open up and become animated as they found someone to share their favourite books with.

Between my own reading journey and the career path I ended up choosing, the idea of Once Upon a Reader was born. I wanted a book which was like a first step out the gate towards a bookshop or library. I wanted to take the mystery out of helping young people foster a love of reading. I wanted to reach the adults who didn’t think a bookshop was for them and the ones who thought it was too late to try and change their children’s minds about books and reading for pleasure.

My hope is that it gets into the hands of people who are ready to share the many benefits of reading with a younger generation or maybe reignite the spark of reading in someone who had thought they had lost it.

Carol Ann Treacy
Barney Goose: A Wild Atlantic Adventure is my second children's book. I've taken to calling it my "difficult second album". Barney Goose was released on March 23rd. Hopes were dashed on the book sales front for poor Barney Goose as I came to terms with there being no launch, low or no stock availability, no gathering of friends and family and random passersby, locals or tourists to cheer Barney off the shelves. However, as the numbers of Covid-19 cases grew through March and April, along with the devastating grim daily death tallies, the loss of the opportunity to launch a book seemed so insignificant. I felt lucky to be well. I stocked up the freezer. I know nothing of gardening but I ordered compost online and wasn't quite sure what to do with it. I grew peas! I baked. I found a new appreciation of the little things.

Having the book available for sale and being able to promote online was a lifesaver. I feel sorry for all the smaller independent bookshops who are still struggling to survive, reeling from the aftershock of the lockdown. They need our support now more than ever, just as we need theirs. Hopefully 2021 will bring some relief from the pandemic and a much-needed boost for everyone in the arts and entertainment industry as we find a new way forward for now.

You can download the Books Make Things Better guide and read more artists' reflections on the Children's Books Ireland website

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