Through the eyes of a child: Well-known Irish parents on what they read to their kids

Ahead of World Book Day, Ciara McDonnell asks well-known Irish parents what they read to their kids. Plus, she compiles a list of top reads for every age.

I spent my entire childhood lost in books. From Enid Blyton, to Roald Dahl, to the entire works of CS Lewis, books offered me a chance to escape into a world where I could observe fantastical happenings from the safety of my reader’s perch.

These days, as a parent to two demanding boys, I don’t spend as much time as I would like in my fictional reading room, but we do explore worlds unchartered each night as we devour the Julia Donaldson archive, and read about outer space in books like The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield.

In a time so dominated by digital distractions, books remain as popular as ever, says children and young adult’s book buyer from Eason, David O’Callaghan.

“2018 looks set to be another stomper of a year for children’s books, especially this spring,” he says. “It is especially exciting when it comes to Irish authors, with brand new books from Anna Carey and Celine Kiernan. There is also a sequel in Peader O’Guilin’s ‘Call’ series – The Invasion along with Dave Rudden’s final book in his series, Knights of the Borrowed Dark – The Endless King.”

O’Callaghan says that a West-African-inspired fantasy novel called Children of Blood & Bone by Tomi Adeyemi will take the young adult market by storm this year.

What would he recommend for younger readers? “I am loving Isadora Moon (Half fairy/Half vampire) by Harriet Muncaster and Dog Man (Half man/Half dog) which are both doing really well for the 5-8 age group.”

Aoife Murray from Children’s Books Ireland says that there is no such thing as too early to introduce your kids to books.

“If you want to foster a culture of reading in your home, it essential to expose them to reading as early as possible and to have books available to them, so that it seems like a normal thing. Keep your books with the toys – we are not fans of ‘special books’ being kept on big high shelves – that’s not what books are for.”

With World Book Day on the horizon (March 1), we asked three of Ireland’s most prominent readers and parents to share what they read with their children, and about the books that they come back to again and again, when they need to balm their soul in the way that only books can.

Alison Curtis

Alison Curtis is mum to Joan (6), and uses her platform on Weekend Breakfast With Alison Curtis on Today FM to champion reading with our children.

Alison Curtis reading with her daughter six-year-old Joan.

“We started the Little Readers Club in July 2017, and what was to be a once off feature has taken off – we have people booked all the way up to May to read on the show.

For me, reading was something that I did with my Dad growing up. He was an avid reader and both my sister and I love books as a result. As I’ve gotten older, I find it harder and harder to read, but my love of children’s books has never gone away.

Joan and I read every day, it’s a big part of our lives and I think it’s really important. You do have to work at it – Joan is happy for me to read our books to her, but we encourage her to read the stories too, because I really want her to love it like I do.

My husband loves having books around the house now, and Joan has a great collection of the on her own shelf. It’s getting to the stage now where we are taking out the littler books and replacing them with ones for older kids.

The very first book we read was Room On the Broom by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. We have a puzzle of it that we are going to get framed for her room because it forever reminds me of when she was one and a half or two and we loved it so much. I love all of Julia Donaldson stories but some of them have too many words and this one was just perfect for us.

Right now, one that she absolutely loves reading to me is Clarice Bean, That’s Me by Lauren Child. This is one that she’ll be proactive with and read to me. I am reading two books to her at the moment; one is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo and the other one is Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World by Kate Pankhurst, which we are reading at the nighttime. I just interviewed Sophie Kinsella who has just debuted her first kid’s book called Mummy Fairy and Me and we are really enjoying that one as well.

I loved the Anne Of Green Gables books when I was growing up. My father knew that he was dying for a long time before the rest of us did, and before he died he took myself and my sister to the area where it was set in Eastern Canada. My mind was blown – I was so excited to be there It was the summer that we were thirteen and he passed away on the Valentine’s Day when we were 14, and so the books hold a special place in my heart forever because of it.”

Keelin Shanley

Keelin Shanley says that it’s important to teach your children to love books, but equally, not to pressurise them into it.

“Books were very much a part of our early years. My daughter would be a big reader now; she reads all kinds of different things, and every night before she goes to sleep. She will read anything from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not to Enid Blyton, to the Narnia series. I think she’s quite like me in that respect.

Keelin Shanley is anchor of the Six One News and is mum is Ben, 9, and Lucy, 11.

Both my children still love to be read to. When they were very little, we read together every single night and I actually found some of our old favourites when I was clearing out Lucy’s bedroom last week. We loved Tiddler by Julia Donaldson and there was a story called The Magic Sky by Lucy Richardson, which we adored. It was about a little polar bear looking at the Northern Lights.

Books are always around our house, and our kids would have picked up magazines and supplements to look at pictures and read some of the stories. I think that’s a really great way of getting children into reading and recognising newspapers as an important part of life.

Particularly in the younger years, we always went to books if they were in a tizzy, or fed up or over tired. It was just a way for us to sit down, distract them and relax. The old favourites like Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers or The Book Eating Boy would come out during these times, and that’s where the illustrations come into their own.

I do think that reading is in them to an extent, but it was interesting when Ben started going to bed with a car instead of a book, and we work on it by encouraging them to read to us. We’ve introduced Ben to David Walliams’ books recently and he loves the anarchy and the boldness of his writing.

I definitely went through the Enid Blyton phase when I was a child. I loved them all – I was fascinated by the swimming pool in the rocks at Mallory Towers – I thought that the idea of something like that at school was just heavenly.”

Dáithí Ó’Sé

Since becoming a father to Mícheál Óg, 3, Daithi O’Sé says that the quiet time spent reading to his son is one of the most precious times of his day.

“Mícheál Óg is a really easy-going guy and always has been – we are really lucky. He loves books and being read to.

One of the cutest things of the day is after we’ve read him the bedtime story and we head off with the baby monitor and hear him with the book still on his lap in the cot, going through the pages.

Reading to his son is the highlight of Dáithí Ó’Sé’s day, says the presenter.

Reading is something that we have done since day one. Our house is full of books, both his and mine, and I do all the Irish reading stories with him, while Rita does the English ones.

He understands everything in Irish; we read a book called Scéalta Sí by Criostóir O’Flynn and it has all the fairy tales that we would have grown up with.

We are also reading Adam’s Cloud books by Benjamin Bennett who wrote these books after his son died.

We had him on the show and it would break your heart. The messages in his books like ‘I love you to the moon and stars and back again’ are just brilliant.

It’s a really nice thing for us to do together. We lie back on the bed, I’ll have the arm around him and we relax and read together. Particularly for dads, I think, this is a really special time to spend quality time with our kids.

My father didn’t read with us, because it wasn’t the done thing, but I see the benefit of being able to spend this time with Mícheál.

Our relationship grows and blossoms during this time, I really see it.

It’s during this time that I get to hear what’s really going on in his head; what he’s learned at pre-school and if he has any worries.”

Shelf Life

David O’Callaghan, Children and Young Adult book buyer at Eason, has chosen the best books to introduce your kids to, this year.

Age 0-4:

Guess How Much I Love You, Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram

The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, Helen Oxbury & Mem Fox

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle

The Gruffalo’s Child, Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

Age 5-8:

Dog Man 3: Dog Man - A Tale of Two Kitties, Dav Pilkey

Rover and the Big Fat Baby, Roddy Doyle

Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits: Book 1, Julian Gough and Jim Field

Dog Man, Dav Pilkey

Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet, Dav Pilkey

Three More Wedgie-Powered Adventures in One: Captain Underpants, Dav Pilkey

Toto the Ninja Cat and the Great Snake Escape, Dermot O’Leary

The Giggler Treatment, Roddy Doyle

Age 9 plus:

Bad Dad, David Walliams

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway (book 12), Jeff Kinney

The World’s Worst Children 2, David Walliams

Gangsta Granny, David Walliams

Wonder, RJ Palacio

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling

Awful Auntie, David Walliams

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J K Rowling

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down (Book 11), Jeff Kinney

Grandpa’s Great Escape, David Walliams

Upcoming titles to watch out for in 2018:

Begone the Raggedy Witches (The Wild Magic Trilogy, Book One), Celine Kiernan (9+)

The Endless King: Knights Of The Borrowed Dark (Book 3), Dave Rudden (12+)

The Invasion, Peadar O’Guilin (14+)

Mollie On The March, Anna Carey (12+)

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi (14+)

Isadora Moon Goes to the Fair, Harriet Muncaster (7+)

Ready Player One Film Tie In, Ernest Cline (14+)

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli (14+)

A Wrinkle in Time Tie In, Madeleine L’Engle (12+)


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