Cork illustrator is over the moon with national award

A Cork illustrator is among the winners of this year’s Children’s Books Ireland Awards, writes Pet O’Connell
Cork illustrator is over the moon with national award

Leanne Mc Donagh, joint winner with Oein DeBhairduin of the Judges’ Special Award for Why the Moon Travels, in the 2021 KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Award. Picture: Julien Behal

A CORK illustrator is one of the winners of the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards, announced this week.

Artist and educator Leanne McDonagh, who works at Munster Technological University as a Traveller education coordinator while also developing her work as an artist, is the illustrator of Why The Moon Travels.

The collection of 20 folk tales, rooted in the oral tradition of the Irish Traveller community, received the Judges’ Special Recognition Award, with the judging panel praising it as “a beautifully-written and ground-breaking book, which celebrates and shares a rich tradition that may be unfamiliar to many readers”.

Cork artist Leanne McDonagh. Picture: Julien Behal
Cork artist Leanne McDonagh. Picture: Julien Behal

Why The Moon Travels was written by Mincéir author and storyteller Oein DeBhairduin and illustrated by Ms McDonagh, a young Traveller woman from Fermoy.

Published by Skein Press, the short stories celebrate Mincéir traditions, retelling the tales with “passion and lyricism” according to the CBI judges.

“These are tales of giants, foxes, and owls, of friendship, love, and hunger, of famine, heartache, and loss,” the judges said. 

“In these stories, this world and the otherworld are intertwined, the personal is often used to explore the universal, and storytelling becomes a means of making sense of our surroundings.”

Ms McDonagh, a past student of CIT Crawford College of Art and Design, was one of a small number of Traveller graduates completing third-level studies in 2011, and has gone on to act as an inspirational role model for young members of the Traveller community accessing higher education.

Mr DeBhairduin was also announced as the winner of the Eilís Dillon Award, which is named in honour of the revered Irish children’s author and recognises an outstanding first book for children and young people.

Why the Moon Travels.
Why the Moon Travels.

CEO Elaina Ryan said Children’s Books Ireland was “especially glad” that Why The Moon Travels was honoured with two awards.

“Let this herald a new era of inclusion for all artists and be an inspiration to young writers in the Traveller community and other under-represented groups all over Ireland,” she added.

The awards, announced in a ceremony hosted by broadcaster Rick O’Shea and shared online as part of the International Literature Festival Dublin, saw Galway-born author Deirdre Sullivan and Dublin-based illustrator Karen Vaughan jointly win the overall Book of the Year Award for Savage Her Reply, a reimagining of The Children of Lir for young adult readers.

Judges praised Sullivan’s lyrical prose, describing the book as “a tense and haunting tale that explores heartache, loss, and forgiveness, while giving voice to a woman silenced for generations”.

This is the second Book of the Year Award win for the duo, whose previous title together, Tangleweed and Brine, was awarded the overall prize in 2018.

Kildare author Pádraig Kenny received this year’s Honour Award for Fiction for The Monsters of Rookhaven, a dark and immersive adventure that explores ideas of acceptance, tolerance, and true friendship.

The Monsters of Rookhaven tells the story of a young monster who lives in a mansion protected from the outside world, until two humans stumble into her life.

Judges commented on Kenny’s gripping narrative, “which draws upon established gothic and horror motifs in providing readers with an utterly original adventure”.

Former Laureate na nÓg PJ Lynch was the recipient of the Honour Award for Illustration for The Haunted Lake, a picture book that takes readers on a journey to a ghostly otherworld.

Judges noted that “this tale of love, loss and perseverance is told by Lynch through words and masterful illustrations” that transport the reader from the world of the living to the eerie depths of the town that lies beneath the lake.

This is the sixth win for Belfast-born Lynch, who previously won honour awards in 2014, 1998, 1995, and 1990 and received the overall Book of the Year Award in 1996 for his artwork in The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, written by Susan Wojciechowski.

The Junior Juries’ Award is given to the book that receives the highest score from panels of children and young people in schools across the Republic of Ireland and the North who have read and judged the shortlisted titles.

The winner of this year’s Junior Juries’ Award is The Falling in Love Montage, Ciara Smyth’s witty coming-of-age narrative centred on a young protagonist with a clear and distinctive voice.

The KPMG Reading Hero Award was presented to Dean Porter, age 11, from Drumfries, Co Donegal. He has an extraodinary passion for books and reading, which has seen him through the past three years while he has been attending hospital in Crumlin and has undergone a serious operation for scoliosis.

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