World of won­ders

Books still make the per­fect present for chil­dren of any age. With the very young, they can also act as a bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with par­ents, says He­len O’Cal­laghan

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Feature -

AT AGE six, Sarah Crossan’s daugh­ter, Aoife, is “re­ally get­ting ex­cited” about books. Crossan’s own books in­clude

The Weight of Wa­ter and her lat­est novel for teens, Moon­rise. She is Ire­land’s fifth Lau­re­ate na nÓg (Chil­dren’s Lit­er­a­ture Lau­re­ate) and gets Aoife books for ev­ery oc­ca­sion, from Valen­tine’s Day to Hal­loween. “Santa brings her books and puts notes with them.”

Crossan, who lived in Dublin un­til she was six when the fam­ily moved to the UK, did not grow up sur­rounded by books, but her mum brought her to the li­brary and by the time she was 12 she was pas­sion­ate about read­ing. “If a child loves to read, ev­ery part of the cur­ricu­lum is eas­ier to ac­cess,” she says, adding that for her own girl, she sees books as ne­ces­si­ties in the same way as eat­ing fivea-day of fruit and veg­eta­bles.

For par­ents and chil­dren, read­ing to­gether is about “con­nec­tion and find­ing space” to be quiet to­gether. “It’s a way of ex­press­ing my love to Aoife. There’s no mu­sic on, no phone in the room. There’s noth­ing to dis­tract, just the char­ac­ters, the story. She has my un­di­vided at­ten­tion for 20 min­utes or half an hour — noth­ing can re­place that.”

Crossan mod­els read­ing for plea­sure for her daugh­ter. “I say ‘you can do some art or you can read’. And she’ll of­ten say ‘oh, I’ll read with you’. And we’ll sit on the couch with tea, ap­ple juice, and some bis­cuits. I want her to see me read­ing my books for plea­sure.

“Par­ents might see this as an­other obli­ga­tion and not see the nour­ish­ment in it. When I do it, my stress lev­els go down. For me, it’s as close to med­i­ta­tion that you can get with­out med­i­tat­ing. I’m in the present mo­ment, not wor­ry­ing about what I said or what I have to do.”

The gift of a book en­dures, be­lieves Crossan. “A toy is out of the box and they play with it for three days. The book is on the shelf un­til prob­a­bly they leave home, so it’s for their whole life. My aunt brought me a book of Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen fairy tales when I was in hospi­tal as a child — I went back to it again and again. Books like these never sell on eBay or get given to char­ity shops.”

A book also has aes­thetic ap­peal, even more so if beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated or if it’s a hard­cover edi­tion. “You’re giv­ing an art ob­ject,” says Crossan, who en­cour­ages giv­ing chil­dren the books they’re in­ter­ested in, which aren’t al­ways syn­ony­mous with the wor­thy choices of par­ents.

Sarah Crossan’s theme as lau­re­ate is #WeAreThePoets. More in­for­ma­tion: chil­drenslau­re­

Christ­mas book gift ideas for chil­dren, rec­om­mended by Chil­dren’s Books Ire­land and the Lau­re­ate Project: I Say Ooh, You Say Ahh, John Kane, Tem­plar Pub­lish­ing, €9.80

The first page of John Kane’s de­but pic­ture-book tells read­ers there’s some­thing very im­por­tant they have to re­mem­ber. When the nar­ra­tor says ‘Ooh’, they must say ‘Ahh’. This sim­ple prin­ci­ple of read-and-re­spond un­der­pins an in­ven­tive story and glo­ri­ously in­ter­ac­tive read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. (0-4)

The Pres­i­dent’s Cat, Peter Don­nelly, Gill Books, €14.99

Peter Don­nelly’s un­named but very recog­nis­able Ir­ish pres­i­dent is back — and he’s left the fam­ily cat be­hind after the sum­mer hol­i­days. How will the fe­line make its way back to the Áras? This fun road trip reads like an ad for sunny Ire­land, with stopovers in ma­jor sites and typ­i­cal land­scapes. (2-4)

Ruby’s Worry, Tom Per­ci­val, Blooms­bury Chil­dren’s Books, €9.80

A spe­cial book that ex­plores what it means to suf­fer from anx­i­ety and how it might be man­aged more eas­ily. With gor­geous il­lus­tra­tions and care­ful, beau­ti­ful words, it’s a must buy for any child who wor­ries or pan­ics a bit more than they’d like. And for the child who doesn’t, a pre-emp­tive strike can’t hurt! (2-4)

The Dog Who Lost His Bark, Eoin Colfer, il­lus­trated by PJ Lynch, Walker Books, €10.49

Up­lift­ing story with great hu­mour and heart, about a young boy who longs for his own dog. With his dad away for the sum­mer, his des­per­a­tion’s even greater. Mean­while, Oz has had a hard life and he longs for his very own boy to look after him. To­gether they help one an­other to heal — heart-warm­ing and en­chant­ing story. (7+)

Dr Hiber­nica Finch’s Com­pelling Com­pen­dium Of Ir­ish An­i­mals, Rob Maguire, il­lus­trated by Aga Grandow­icz, Lit­tle Is­land Books, €20

Large-for­mat in­for­ma­tion book pro­fil­ing Ir­ish an­i­mals of land, sea, and air. Read­ers are guided by a slightly ec­cen­tric zo­ol­o­gist nar­ra­tor who has trav­elled Ire­land’s length and breadth, study­ing its an­i­mal in­hab­i­tants. Spreads are pre­sented in style of her note­books and field notes, com­plete with jokes, facts, and sketches. (7+)

Bump­fiz­zle The Best On Planet Earth, Pa­tri­cia Forde, il­lus­trated by Elina Braslina, Lit­tle Is­land Books, €9

It’s not easy be­ing the mid­dle child, es­pe­cially if you’re an alien dis­guised as a child sent to un­der­stand these silly hu­mans, but Bump­fiz­zle is Planet Plonk’s bravest war­rior. With hi­lar­i­ously dis­gust­ing il­lus­tra­tions from Elina Braslina, Bump­fiz­zle’s the story of a dis­grun­tled alien that read­ers will adore. (9-11)

Be­gone The Raggedy Witches, Ce­line Kier­nan, Walker Books, €9.80

Mup’s hav­ing a bad night. Her beloved aunty has died and a coven of witches has nabbed her fa­ther. This means a bizarre quest for Mup to find him in an en­chanted oth­er­world where crows talk in rhyme and magic is banned. The head­strong Mup is a win­some guide through the earthy, faintly pa­gan Witches Bor­ough. The prose holds a po­tent spook­i­ness that will en­chant read­ers beyond the last page. (9-11)

Bright Sparks: Amaz­ing Dis­cov­er­ies, In­ven­tions And De­signs By Women, Owen O’Do­herty, The O’Brien Press, €14.99

Com­pre­hen­sive list of ideas de­vel­oped, in­vented, or cre­ated by women. From pa­per bags to pedal bins, from dis­pos­able nap­pies to DNA, our lives have been en­hanced and made safer be­cause of these women’s work. Re­fresh­ing ap­proach to show­ing how ev­ery­day items — com­put­ers, hospi­tal treat­ments — came to be cre­ated. (9-11)

The Great Ir­ish Weather Book, Joanna Don­nelly, il­lus­trated by Fuch­sia MacAree, Gill Books, €19.99

In Ire­land, a tiny coun­try with lots of weather, the weather’s ex­actly what we like to talk about. So it makes sense for us to learn about it. From cold fronts to cli­mate changes, anti-cy­clones to iso­bars, this book has ev­ery­thing you need to un­der­stand the weather that af­fects our ev­ery­day lives. (9-11)

Fly­ing Tips For Flight­less Birds, Kelly McCaugh­rain, Walker Books, €11.20

Multi-lay­ered tale, funny and mov­ing, set against back­drop of a strug­gling cir­cus school run by Birdie and Finch Fran­coni’s fam­ily. Big is­sues of ac­cep­tance, friend­ship, and fam­ily are all ex­plored with clar­ity, hu­mour, and lots of heart be­neath Fran­coni’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing Big Top. (12–14)

Spare And Found Parts, Sarah Maria Grif­fin, Ti­tan Books, €12.60

A post-apoc­a­lyp­tic Dublin is deftly con­jured by Sarah Maria Grif­fin in this in­spired take on the Franken­stein nar­ra­tive. Teenaged Nell strug­gles to find pur­pose and in­spi­ra­tion in her life, over­shad­owed by the ge­nius of her in­ven­tor fa­ther and artis­tic mother, whose death still haunts the Crane house­hold. Lyri­cal, mov­ing, and beau­ti­fully writ­ten. (Young adult)

Long Way Down, Ja­son Reynolds, il­lus­trated by Chris Priestley, Faber & Faber, €11.20

This pow­er­ful verse novel takes a com­pelling look at gun vi­o­lence in the US through the story of Will, whose older brother has just been shot and killed. This novel will at­tract teenagers who don’t con­sider them­selves ‘read­ers’. (Young adult)

Inis read­ing guide: Ex­cel­lent re­source for any­one look­ing for in­spi­ra­tion/re­li­able re­views of new Ir­ish books for chil­dren. €2.50 from chil­drens­book­sire­

Sarah Crossan: ‘The book is on the shelf un­til they leave home.’

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