Our pick of Irish books for Christmas stocking

Pet O’Connell shops local for Irish children’s books as Christmas gifts
Our pick of Irish books for Christmas stocking

Pet O'Connell has come up with a list of Irish books, perfect for Christmas presents. 

BETWEEN Brexit and Covid, faced with customs charges and delivery delays, buying Irish has become an even more sensible option than ever this Christmas.

As well as bringing much-needed business to local bookshops, this is the ideal time to support Irish authors, illustrators, and publishers when choosing books for young people of all ages.

Starting on Leeside, naturally, Lily’s Dream is the third Lissadell House adventure from Cork native Judi Curtin, illustrated by Rachel Corcoran (O’Brien Press €11.99).

The life of serving girls Lily, Nellie, and Johanna is set against the backdrop of World War I. But events in Belgium and France seem far removed from those at the big house in Sligo, where the main focus is on the latest whims of Maeve de Markievicz and preparations for the local crafts and produce show.

However, as members of staff enlist to fight, the war is brought closer to home and Lily’s future plans seem an impossible dream. Ages 8-12.

Cork’s Sheena Dempsey is the illustrator of Lucy Courtenay’s Mermaid School: Save our Seas (Andersen Press €9.80), in which Lady Sealia’s Mermaid School teaches readers aged 7-9 about one of the biggest environmental issues of our age. Marnie Blue and her friends are shocked at the appearance of plastic rubbish in Mermaid Lagoon and take direct action to rid their underwater environment of this man-made pollution.

A stocking-filler story for children gaining confidence in reading solo.

Caitriona Sweeney heads West for Síscéal ó Ghaillimh, an Irish language reimagining of the story of Hansel and Gretel, translated by Marcus Mac Conghail and available in English as A Galway Fairytale (O’Brien Press €12.99).

With one foot in modern-day Galway and the other in Irish myth and legend, this picture book leads young readers through the Spanish Arch and Eyre Square as two children set off alone to buy their mother a Claddagh ring for her birthday.

No smartphones for these two explorers, who instead take with them a rucksack containing only brown soda bread and jam. 

Very handy it proves though, as no sooner have they left home but they run across an armoured man with a sword. He agrees to let them pass unharmed in return for some of their bread, which also proves useful on their next encounters, with Gráinne Mhaol and a Galway fisherman.

The brown bread comes into its own when the children get lost and follow their trail of crumbs home, but not before an encounter with a wicked sweetshop owner, quite unexpectedly scary considering the likely under-seven readership, and as sinister a witch as ever appeared in Hansel and Gretel stories.

For the same age group, Peter Donnelly’s Up on the Mountain (Gill Books €14.99) is a wholesome breath of fresh air for lockdown times.

A family strides out for walks together through the changing seasons, enjoying the colours of the autumn leaves, the wild bluebells, and the birdsong. “Up on the mountain the air was clear and fresh…Up on the mountain we felt alive,” they chorus. This picture book from the author-illustrator of The President’s Glasses really is as simple as that - a joyous celebration of the great outdoors.

On many children’s Christmas lists this year will be book eight of Ger Siggins’ Eoin Madden adventures, Football Spirit (O’Brien Press €8.99) which branches out from the series’ original rugby theme into soccer territory.

It’s certainly unexplored ground for Eoin and his team-mates at Castlerock College, but after his stellar early career with Leinster and Ireland, he is taking a break from rugby and jumps at the chance to try soccer instead.

Eoin, with his propensity for seeing ghosts at moments of crisis, knows something is amiss when a ghostly footballer starts appearing, and soon the story of Busby Babe Billy (Liam) Whelan becomes intertwined in a modern-day football adventure. For readers aged nine-plus.

Adult novelist Sinéad Moriarty makes her first venture into children’s fiction with The New Girl, a compelling story for ages nine and upwards, inspired by and drawing upon research among Syrian refugees.

Ruby, the odd one out at her Irish school, has issues of her own to deal with and a disabled brother who requires most of her parents’ attention.

She is initially less than enthusiastic when new girl Safa is placed beside her in class, but soon finds that although their backgrounds are very different, there is more that connects them than divides them in this story of friendship and humanity.

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