Upcoming titles: New books for children from Irish artists

We’ve pulled out 15 highlights from Irish artists to look out for in the coming months
Upcoming titles: New books for children from Irish artists

There is plenty to come from Irish publishers and Irish artists this year. Pictures: Steve Langan and City Headshots

Looking forward to February through to April — children’s and young people’s literature by Irish publishers and Irish artists is in robust health.

This year shows no sign of decline in the continuing steady increase of Irish artists published by UK publishers but native publishers are more than holding their own, and all publishers are continuing to show a great appetite for new voices, with an ever-growing increase in Northern Irish artists entering the market.

We’ve pulled out 15 highlights from Irish artists to look out for in the coming months.

Standing on One Leg is Hard by Erika McGann and illustrated by Clive McFarland
Standing on One Leg is Hard by Erika McGann and illustrated by Clive McFarland

Standing on One Leg is Hard by Erika McGann and illustrated by Clive McFarland (The O’Brien Press, April), for ages up to two is a very stylish boardbook. 

This one is all about trying (and failing), but learning along the way. A heron chick (short and fluffy) is trying to emulate an adult heron (tall and graceful), by standing on one leg. After various watery mishaps, the book cleverly involves its young readers — and once they close their eyes, the whole enterprise becomes much more successful for the heron chick. With some rhyming text and audience participation, this one is guaranteed to provide fun for all.

Kevin’s in a Mood by Sarah Bowie
Kevin’s in a Mood by Sarah Bowie

Kevin’s in a Mood by Sarah Bowie (The O’Brien Press, March), aimed at ages 3-5. For exasperated cat-owners everywhere. Bowie perfectly captures the endless cycle of affection withholding that cats carry on with, while the young humans in their life try everything to win back their love. In this case, Suzy, formerly Kevin’s favourite person, has been invited to a party without him. Sulking up in a tree, Suzy’s array of friends try everything to coax Kevin down — teddies, doughnuts and footballs are offered up — but nothing works until his very own party invite arrives. Bowie’s comic-making background is clearly visible through the pacy action sequencing and eventual resolution.

Wild City by Ashwin Chacko
Wild City by Ashwin Chacko

Wild City by Ashwin Chacko (The O’Brien Press, April), for ages 3-5, takes young readers on a vibrant adventure all across the city. This book happens to be based in Dublin, but can be read anywhere, the whole concept is to get kids out and about and using their imaginations to explore their cities and towns in an imaginative way. Using a catchy ‘Snap, Clap, Zap’ action — this one will be great to read aloud for groups, particularly as a jumping-off point in encouraging everyone to get in on the action.

Hazel Tree Farm: Blue the Brave by Margaret Anne Suggs
Hazel Tree Farm: Blue the Brave by Margaret Anne Suggs

Hazel Tree Farm: Blue the Brave by Alma Jordan and illustrated by Margaret Anne Suggs (The O’Brien Press, February), for ages 7-9, is the start of a new farm series which has all the makings of a classic. The Farrellys — Mum (a vet), Dad (a farmer), and their children Peter and Kate — live at Hazel Tree Farm. They share their farm with a menagerie of animals but special mention must go to Blue the sheepdog and a delightfully fun speckled hen called Hettie. This story finds us in lambing season and does a great job of not shying away from the realities of life on a farm. A welcome addition to Irish bookshelves.

The Wishkeeper’s Apprentice by Rachel Chivers Khoo and illustrated by Rachel Sanson
The Wishkeeper’s Apprentice by Rachel Chivers Khoo and illustrated by Rachel Sanson

The Wishkeeper’s Apprentice by Rachel Chivers Khoo and illustrated by Rachel Sanson (Walker Books, March) for ages 7-9. Any book that starts with a map always bodes well and this one is a magical delight. Rupus Beewinkle, resident Wishkeeper of Whittlestone, is under pressure. He’s taken on too many wishes, fallen behind on the paperwork and fallen foul of the Council of Wishkeepers! Meanwhile, 10-year-old Felix is lonely — he’s not doing so well at football and his older sister is ignoring him. We follow Felix on his accidental apprenticeship, where he proves himself highly resourceful, independent and kind hearted. With plenty of dialogue and chapter imagery to keep newly independent readers encouraged, this is a really satisfactory start to a new series.

Kyan Green and the Infinity Racers by Colin Field and illustrated by David Wilkerson
Kyan Green and the Infinity Racers by Colin Field and illustrated by David Wilkerson

Kyan Green and the Infinity Racers by Colin Field and illustrated by David Wilkerson (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, February) is for ages 7-9. Kyan stumbles across a box in the attic with ‘Infinite Race’ written on its lid. When opened, he discovers a race car game with only seven track pieces. Not much of a game? How wrong you can be! It takes Kyan into multidimensional universes where he must race to overcome various nemeses.

With fun terminology (‘High Velocity Powdered Aluminium Jettison’; ‘Metamorphic Headphones’), there are enough blasters and boosters (and great illustrations) to have the most reluctant of readers racing through the first title in this new series.

Milly McCarthy is a Complete Catastrophe by Leona Forde and illustrated by Karen Harte
Milly McCarthy is a Complete Catastrophe by Leona Forde and illustrated by Karen Harte

Milly McCarthy is a Complete Catastrophe by Leona Forde and illustrated by Karen Harte (Gill Books, March) for ages 8-10. This book is like sitting beside a giddy 10-and-a-half-year old — it positively fizzes with things that it wants to tell you, right this very minute. Millie’s school win a trip to Fota Wildlife Park, kicking off a series of chaotic misadventures (which are 100% ‘not totally’ Millie’s fault, by the way, although maybe Millie-adjacent). This book is great fun, feeling like a whizz through a school trip in contemporary Ireland. Even better — Millie’s school is a Gaelscoil, with the cúpla focail included sure to bring any grown-up readers straight back to their classrooms.

The Lonely Book by Meg Grehan (Little Island Books, April) for ages 9-plus. We meet Annie, her sister, their Mom and their extraordinary bookshop. It is a bookshop where the books themselves know who their reader is, and there is, of course, the perfect book for everyone. One day, a book lies unclaimed by their reader and everything becomes unsettled — the shop, their family and Annie. Will the book’s true reader ever come forward? Grehan captures the sometimes-overwhelming pressure of teenage identity excellently, as well as the importance of kindness, patience, information and understanding in helping others discover their voice.

Fairy Hill by Marita Conlon-McKenna
Fairy Hill by Marita Conlon-McKenna

Fairy Hill by Marita Conlon-McKenna (The O’Brien Press, February) is for ages 9-11. As Anna’s separated parents begin their lives with their new partners, she is dealing with all the confusion that her two new, blended families bring.

On a stay in Ireland with her father’s family, she comes face to face with the fairy world. Long ago a fairy ring was destroyed on their family land and now, as the Sídhe seek her new baby brother in retribution, Anna must do all she can to protect him. A contemporary story of family and love, stepped in ancient myth and folklore.

The Time Tider by Sinéad O’Hart
The Time Tider by Sinéad O’Hart

The Time Tider by Sinéad O’Hart (Stripes Publishing, February), is for ages 9-12. Mara and her father live in a van, isolated from society for protection. Here, Mara stumbles across a mysterious book — the Time Tider’s Handbook. When her father disappears, the flow of time is impeded and it emerges that much more is missing than originally meets the eye. Mara and her new friend Jan must race to find the thieves, save her father and discover her own destiny in this heart-stopping new adventure from Sinéad O’Hart.

Wider Than the Sea by Serena Molloy and illustrated by George Ermos
Wider Than the Sea by Serena Molloy and illustrated by George Ermos

Wider Than the Sea by Serena Molloy and illustrated by George Ermos (Hodder Children’s Books, March) for ages 9-11. In this very welcome verse novel, we meet Ró, who struggles with words, especially when they move off the page and flip about. At home, her parents are always fighting. At its heart, this is a book about growing up, about frustrations that are both within and out of your control and the power and impact of a good teacher. The star of this novel, the friendship between Ró and Cian (The Bean) is done perfectly, capturing that unsteady moment when fiercely loyal childhood friendship tips towards more romantic feelings. A really classy debut.

Freya Harte is not a Puzzle by Méabh Collins
Freya Harte is not a Puzzle by Méabh Collins

Freya Harte is not a Puzzle by Méabh Collins (The O’Brien Press, March) for readers of 11-plus. This a school-based exploration of a young teen’s diagnosis as an autistic person. Freya likes order and linear thinking, and she gets frustrated when her teacher and others don’t necessarily understand that. In a world that often overwhelms her, she strives for control and keeps things inside. The recent diagnosis seems to have unsettled things further — as her need for control spills over into her food and eating habits. This book does a great job of showing how the language and terminology we use matters deeply, and the enduring power of friendship and acceptance.

A Game of Life or Death by Triona Campbell
A Game of Life or Death by Triona Campbell

A Game of Life or Death by Triona Campbell (Scholastic, February) for YA readers. This is a brilliantly written, pacy read, with Campbell’s background in TV evident in its whip-smart plot. In a not-too-distant future world, post-multiple (undefined) pandemics, hackers and coders have all the power. Asha and her sister Maya came up through the foster system and are now out on their own and living together. The book opens after Maya, who works for Zu Tek, a VR technology company, has been found dead. We follow Asha as she races to find out what happened her sister and why. If you have a teenager who perhaps has turned away from reading, try this one. Fair warning, it will leave readers waiting impatiently for more.

Catfish Rolling by Clara Kumagai
Catfish Rolling by Clara Kumagai

Catfish Rolling by Clara Kumagai (Zephyr, March) for YA readers. Here we find ourselves in Japan, post-‘Shake’, a mysterious event which has left the country with new time zones, within which time functions differently. Sora already lives within these time boundaries — but she is also viewed as an outsider, a foreigner — she is Canadian Japanese, and feels she never really fits in. During ‘the Shake’, we learn that many people disappeared, including her mother. A book about time and everything that it touches — grief, love, memories — and the ebb and flow of missing a lost loved one while keenly feeling their presence. A gorgeously written, thoughtful read that combines science, Japanese mythology and human emotion to great effect.

What Walks These Halls (The O’Brien Press, April) by Amy Clerkin
What Walks These Halls (The O’Brien Press, April) by Amy Clerkin

What Walks These Halls (The O’Brien Press, April) by Amy Clarkin for YA readers. When Jack, a YouTuber, posts a video from a visit to a haunted house which leaves him in hospital, a group of teenagers, whose family were formerly paranormal investigators, must take on the mysterious Hyacinth House. The group called PSI (Paranormal Surveyance Ireland) each have familial ties to the house, and each have special skills to bring to the table, especially Éabha, who is an empath. A great start to a new series that is as much about friendship, love, and found family as it is about the paranormal.

Dates for the diary

Finally, some big book days for your diary. Ireland Reads, the national initiative to get the whole country reading, takes place on February 25. One minute, 10 minutes, an hour, or more — it doesn’t matter how long you read for or what you read, just that you pick up a book and get stuck in.

World Book Day is celebrated this year on March 2, with an extensive programme of activities to encourage and support reading, involving authors, illustrators, publishers, retailers and partners.

Jenny Murray is the deputy CEO of Children’s Books Ireland, the national organisation for children’s books and reading.

Through its many activities, events and publications, Children’s Books Ireland connects young readers with books they’ll love, helping to inspire a lifelong love of reading and the many benefits that it can bring. 

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