In an effort to neutralise the flashing plastic that storms our home on December 25th, we insist on books; books as gifts from us, books stuffed into stockings from Santa and books gifted to others in the stead of said flashing plastic. It’s a last ditch effort at balance and it makes my husband and I feel like we’re maintaining some degree of control in the face of the madness and the excess that is Christmas morning.
When the sparkly newness of the games and the tablets and the flashing plastic wears off, the books will be there, quiet and unassuming, unfamiliar and inviting, like dutiful soldiers at ease, awaiting the command to restore peace and order. Kids’ books 2017
We’ve been reading some of this years biggest titles, many of them by Irish writers and illustrators, and I’ve put together a list that might help you sort the wheat from the chaff. There’s little as dissatisfying as spending your hard earned moolah on a rubbish book. In fact the only thing worse is having to repeatedly read the offending text to an undiscerning audience.
Here are twelve of our favourites. Yes twelve. Grab a cuppa and sit back…
1. THE MOST INSPIRING kids books 2017
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
Elena Favelli and Francesca Cavallo
One of the most talked-about books of 2017, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is genuinely a must for every book shelf and it’s not just for girls! This gorgeous anthology was an instant hit with both my son and daughter. One hundred bite-sized bedtime stories recount the achievements of one hundred extraordinary women who changed the world. Each biography is transformed into a short fairytale. The language is simple, the padding is minimal and the message is straight-shooting; women are strong and important and they’ve done amazing things down through the ages.
From Cleopatra to Coco Chanel, Florence Nightingale to Frida Kahlo and Maya Angelou to Michelle Obama, there’s no better way to send little ones off to the land of nod than with tales of incredible women who have invented, created, governed and inspired. The stories are beautifully illustrated by female illustrators from all over the world. Truly a gem and one that you’ll go back to time and time again.
2. THE MOST CHARMING
The President’s Glasses*
The instantly recognisable protagonist in this quirky picture book will reel you right in. Here’s the gist: The president is on his way to Dublin Castle to sign an important document when his wife realises that he has forgotten his glasses. Enter the presidential pigeon, who flies across the capital giving us a bird’s eye view of everyone’s favourite Dublin landmarks including a bustling O’Connell Street, Christchurch, Trinity College and The Liffey.
3. THE MOST NOSTALGIC
A Sailor Went to Sea Sea Sea*
Sarah Webb & Steve McCarthy
This collection of carefully chosen rhymes and verses will give parents a smack of nostalgia while introducing little readers to poetry and songs that have survived generations. Sarah Webb has included whimsical favourites like It’s Raining, It’s Pouring and Do Your Ears Hang Low? alongside cherished songs that have been ingrained in our memories such as She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain and My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean. Then, to boot, she’s incorporated a gorgeous smattering of verses from the likes of Thomas Moore, WB Yeats, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s a veritable treasure trove with a smile-inducing surprise on every page.
Grandparents and parents will delight in it just as much as the little ones and the vibrant, lavish double-page illustrations by Steve McCarthy really enhance the journey. Warning: you may find yourself belting out Oró Sé Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile at bedtime but sure that’s fine too!
Shortlisted for Children’s Book of the Year, 2017, A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea is available to buy from The O’Brien Press and most good bookshops. Suitable for ages 4-7.
4. THE MOST BEAUTIFUL
My Golden Ticket*
When it comes to personalised kids’ books, Wonderbly is nailing it. Most of us are familiar with the Lost My Name books – there’s probably at least one in every house! Last year, the London-based publisher teamed up with the Roald Dahl Literary Estate to bring readers on a unique, personalised romp through Willy Wonka’s famous factory.
Readers will delight to see their names included in recipes, plots and rhymes. They’ll visit various wacky rooms in the factory with Lomo the Oompa Loompa and the sweetest of adventures culminates in the creation the reader’s very own Wonka Bar!
5. THE MOST SURPRISING
Pigín of Howth*
Kathleen Watkins & Margaret Anne Suggs
I underestimated this one about a well-dressed, jovial piglet’s adventures on the East coast. It felt old-school to me but my older two kids delighted in it and loved joining Pigín on his jaunts around Howth and its surrounds.
Written by Kathleen Watkins in direct response to her grandchildren’s incessant requests for bedtime stories, it follows the adventures of Pigín and his friends Sammy Seal, Sally Seagull and the Badger of Ballsbridge as they visit Ireland’s Eye, adventure with the fairies in Dublin Castle, watch the GAA team training in Parnell Park and meet the President.
6. THE MOST THOUGHT-PROVOKING
Declaration of the Rights of Boys and Girls
Elisabeth Brami & Estelle Billon-Spagnol
In a world where gender dictates much of what kids wear, do and play with, this book is a refreshing reminder that we can all be whoever we want to be. There are no rules. Girls can be as scruffy and as hyper as boys and boys have as much of an entitlement to cry, express themselves emotionally and be hugged as girls do. Children can play with whatever toys they like, wear whatever colours they fancy and enjoy whatever activities excite them. This book helps everyone avoid the frustrating stereotypes that we’re all so fed up with.
Originally published in France, it’s easy to see why it’s becoming a worldwide phenomenon. This is two books in one – read from one side for boys and the other for girls, which works wonderfully to offer all readers both perspectives. The illustrations are quirky, bright and fun and the messages are simple and thought-provoking. Truly lovely. Buy it here.
7. AN CEANN IS FEARR I NGAELIGE
Bí ag Spraoí liom
Sadhbh Devlin & Tarsila Kruse
Sadhbh Devlin is a parenting-blogger-turned-children’s-author and her debut Irish language picture book is really lovely. Lúna is an inventor who loves to play with her mum. But, like most mums who are trying to keep family life from splitting at the seams, Luna’s mum can be a little too busy to play. Lúna invents a time machine to entice her mum to join in the fun. The bright, playful illustrations by Tarsila Kluse bring the scéal to life beautifully and the message is one I’m happy to take on board – make time for play and fun, the rest can wait!
8. THE MOST IRISH
Emma Jane Leeson & Kim Shaw
The title of this one roots the story firmly in Ireland. Kildare mum-of-three, Emma Jane Leeson, has written a series of three stories inspired by the old Irish saying ‘I’ll tell you a story about Johnny Magory’. The books surround a mischievous, relatable little boy called Johnny who takes to the Irish countryside with his dog Ruairí for all kinds of fun and adventures typical of a rural Irish childhood; rafting and boating on canals, playing games with wildlife and animals on the bog and getting thoroughly lost in his imagination. Johnny’s tendency to lose track of time and drive his mother to distraction will delight little readers and Leeson’s use of quintessentially Irish phraseology creates an easy familiarity. Johnny declaring ‘that was grand, Mammy’, on licking the last of his morning porridge from his lips made me smile.
9. THE MOST RELAXING
The Children’s Meditations In My Heart*
Gitte Winter Graugaard
This is a book unlike any other bedtime book I’ve read with the kids. Not a kids’ book per se, but a book of meditations by Danish writer, Gitte Graugaard which claims to… wait for it… help your kids sleep better! I was skeptical but the more we read this book, the more we loved it.
I’m not one for meditation, despite being well aware of the benefits of slower living and a more mindful mindset. (It’s on my to-do list, I promise.) This book of visualisation exercises gave us all a flavour of the merits of meditation. It shows parents how to teach their children the importance of self-esteem and self-love, enabling them to drift off into calming sleep, their hearts full with love. Dialling up the love can only be a good thing, right? It contains four short stories/meditations, each more relaxing and lovely than the last. If you’ve kids who struggle to unwind and you’d like to dip your toe into simple meditation for kids, then this is a great place to start. In a world of information overload and multiple stimuli, it kind of makes sense. I couldn’t believe how into it my older two were. Available to buy on Amazon here.
10. THE MOST RELATABLE
Gringer the Whinger*
Jane Landy & Sheena Dempsey
This debut picture book from Skerries-based Jane Landy sees an exhausted mother attempting to cope with the repeated invasion of an unwelcome visitor. Gringer, a cantankerous dragon, arrives at the most inopportune of times, demanding to be fed peas and entertained. Mayhem ensues, mammy is at the end of her rope, but whinging Gringer is going nowhere.
Cork-born Sheena Dempsey’s illustrations are colourful and comical and perfectly capture the chaos. The story is fun and engaging and parents can probably reach some metaphorical conclusions about the unwelcome house guest. If you like The Tiger Who Came to Tea, then this is a must. Suitable for ages 4-7. Buy a copy here.
11. THE MOST USEFUL
John Burke & Fatti Burke
If you liked Irelandopedia and Historopedia, then you’ll love the newest addition to the series by father and daughter team, John and Fatti Burke. Foclóiropedia is ‘a journey through the Irish language from arán to zú.’ The Irish language and our nation’s quirks and cultural idiosyncrasies are brought to life with bright bold graphics in this large, engaging text.
Phrases, basic vocab, maps, similes and seanfhocail are all carefully catalogued and illuminated with fun images characteristic of Burke’s usual quirky style. I can see us going back to this one time after time for help with homework tasks, but also for no other reason than to admire the most beautiful dictionary in the house. It’s been nominated for the Bord Gais Energy Children’s Book of the Year and is available from Gill Books, Eason’s and most bookshops.
12. THE MOST DELIGHTFUL
Socks for Mr Wolf
This ‘wolly adenture around Ireland’ is written and illustrated by Meath-based American, Tatyana Feeney. Another charming story, this time for younger readers. Mr Wolf discovers a hole in his beloved socks and so embarks on a journey to mend them. Avenues are exhausted and he has almost given up hope when he happens upon a piece of wool. By following the wool along the the Avoca Forest trail and then through the city, he eventually comes upon a sheep who’s willing to help and an unlikely friendship is forged between the traditional nemeses.
We loved the slow pace and the fun illustrations. My two-year-old pointed and interacted and the story kept the five-year-old engaged too. Shortlisted for Childrens Book of the Year, 2017, it’s a very sweet read. Avaiable from The O’Brien Press and all good book shops.
Have you read any others that you think I should add to my shopping list? Please share! Perhaps you’ve read some of the books on the list? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
If you liked this, you might also enjoy 5 Fantastic Books for the Under Fives.
- *I was sent copies of some of the books included, in return for my honest thoughts. I haven’t included all of the books I was sent by PRs and publishers, only the ones I really liked and would be willing buy myself. All opinions are my own, as always.
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