Tag Archives: Sarah Webb


In case you hadn’t heard…

There’s a brand-new Festival in town!

Well. Technically, it’s in every town, everywhere, because – yes! – it’s Ireland’s First Digital Children’s Literature Festival. It’s called WonderFest. It’s happening very soon – like, next week, November 20th to November 22nd! It’s a celebration of Irish children’s literature, particularly of all the amazing books that have been published in 2020 so far. And it’s full of brilliant things like Go Animal Crackers – Animal Tales and Draw Along with Alan Nolan, Margaret Ann Suggs and Jennifer Farley! There’s also Eggcorns and Bumbumbees: Word and Art Play with Chris Judge! There’s Lunchtime Tales of Wonder with PJ Lynch, Kieran Fanning, Marianne McShane and Lindsay Sedgwick! There’s a Live Q&A with DEREK LANDY! There’s a Dead Zoo Draw-Along with Peter Donnelly! There’s another Lunchtime Tales of Wonder with Celine Kiernan, Eve McDonnell and Catherine Doyle!

I mean… I need to sit down after all that excitement. While I’m recovering, here’s a photo of the fab Alan Nolan, on the hunt for stories (as is his wont).

(Photo Credit: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland)

Loads of the events have already sold out, but never fear. There’s so much more still to explore. If you (or your grown-ups) have access to Zoom, then you’re all invited to take part in WonderFest. It’s going to be WonderFul, and so much fun. Get your tickets through the website, tune in at the right time, and a world of Wonder awaits…

#Bookelves16 (Or, the Best Book Recommendations Around)

Christmas, you may have noticed, has been and gone. The turkey has been gobbled (sorry, sorry), the decorations put away for another year (well, in some houses…), and the wrapping paper has well and truly been recycled.

So, why am I blogging, you may ask, about #Bookelves16? Well, because books are for life, not just for Christmas. And it’s always a good time of year for great book recommendations, am I right?

Of course I am.

In case I’m talking utter nonsense to some of you – those who don’t follow me on Twitter, f’rinstance (and if this is you *makes stern face* rectify that situation as soon as possible, please) – I’d best explain what #Bookelves16 is all about. So, during the month of December, a bunch of great people who love children’s books, led by head elf Sarah Webb, took to social media to promote, recommend and prescribe children’s books to those who were looking for gifts, or just for something wondrous to read. All through the month people who know their onions when it comes to kidlit took the time to give personal recommendations to those who needed them, and/or just to talk about their own favourites. I’m proud to say that I was a Bookelf, and that it was huge fun.

Today’s blog, then, will be a quick recap of some of my favourite #Bookelves16 recommendations, and if you want to check out all the recommendations on offer, simply head to Twitter and stick ‘#bookelves16’ into the Search box, and Bob’s your mother’s brother. Simple!

My first recommendation was for Jennifer Bell’s THE UNCOMMONERS: THE CROOKED SIXPENCE.


Cover image for Jennifer Bell’s THE UNCOMMONERS, art by Karl J Mountford (Corgi Children’s Books, 2016)

I reviewed this book last year, and I don’t think I’ve read a book I’ve loved quite so much in… well, in forever. It’s wonderful, and one I will treasure and reread with great joy for years to come. Happily, a sequel, THE SMOKING HOURGLASS, is imminent – I’ll be top of the queue to buy it.

I also recommended, to great interest, a sequence of books by Kevin Crossley-Holland, which reimagine the world of King Arthur through the eyes of a young boy who shares his name and possesses a ‘seeing stone’ which allows him to look into the world of the legendary king. Anyone who needs proof that children’s books can be powerful, meditative, intoxicatingly well-written and an amazing story on top of that need look no further.


Spines for Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Arthur trilogy (plus the fourth book, ‘Gatty’s Tale’), Orion Children’s books

My recommendations also included the work of Diana Wynne Jones, Alan Garner, Norton Juster (whose THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH is one of my all-time favourites; I can’t wait to read it to my own child in a few years’ time), Madeleine l’Engle, Terry Pratchett, Allan Boroughs (IRONHEART is a particular favourite round these parts), Peter Bunzl, James E. Nicol, Christopher Edge, Lucy Strange’s THE SECRET OF NIGHTINGALE WOOD, everything by the unstoppable, wonderful Abi Elphinstone and everything by the lyrically perfect Frances Hardinge, the monumental KNIGHTS OF THE BORROWED DARK by the magical Dave Rudden, along with books by Kieran Fanning, Nigel Quinlan, Eva Ibbotson, Horatio Clare, S.F. Said and Andrea Beaty (whose ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST and ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER are major hits in my house). The interested reader might also like to check out this article from a recent edition of The Irish Times, in which yours truly recommended some great reads along with a host of other kidlit-types – there are enough book ideas in that article alone to satisfy anyone’s cravings.

But because a bookelf never really hangs up her pointy hat, no matter whether it’s Christmas or any other time of year, I’d like to say this: I’m on hand, 24/7/365 (or as near to it as I can manage) to recommend, give guidance on, and enthuse wildly about – I’ll warn you now, there will be flappy hands – children’s books, from picture books to upper MG, and I may even set my tremulous toe into the waters of YA. I’m not much of an expert on books for teens, but I do have a fair knowledge, and if I don’t know the answer to your question I will know someone who does.

So, I’ll leave you with this: read often, read well, expose the children in your life to as many books as they can carry (don’t forget the library!) and never deny them reading material if it’s at all possible to provide it. If they enjoy reading, rejoice, for you never know the worlds which will open up before them and the thirst for learning they will develop. And, importantly, let your children read whatever they want to read.  Anything else will induce stress palpitations, frankly, and nobody needs those.

And on that note, I’ll leave you in peace. I’m sure you have reading to be getting on with…



Book Review Saturday – ‘Beyond the Stars’

Beyond the Stars is a unique book, insofar as it’s a collection of short stories from eleven of Ireland’s most celebrated authors for children (plus one from an extremely talented young lady named Emma Brade, of which more later), sold in aid of Fighting Words, a creative writing centre in Dublin. Each story is illustrated, with one particularly industrious chap, Oisin McGann, not only writing but illustrating his own story, and they are all (stories and illustrations alike) awesome.

L-R: Sarah Webb, Niamh Sharkey and Roddy Doyle, launching 'Beyond the Stars' Image copyright: Brown Bag Films Image sourced: www.brownbagfilms.com

L-R: Sarah Webb, Niamh Sharkey and Roddy Doyle, launching ‘Beyond the Stars’
Image copyright: Brown Bag Films
Image sourced: http://www.brownbagfilms.com

The book is the brainchild of Sarah Webb, who conceived of it and contacted the authors involved, asking them to donate their time and work. She writes about her experience here, taking us through the conception and construction of the book, and her experience of conducting the authors and illustrators from bare outline to fully-finished product. Fighting Words is a cause she is passionately involved with, and many authors – particularly those in Ireland – would be familiar with it and the great work it does in encouraging people who might not have a chance to take part in creative writing classes to do just that. It works with people of all ages, but much of its effort is focused on schoolchildren, which makes Beyond the Stars a particularly appropriate way to raise funds and awareness for the cause.

There are twelve stories here – twelve tales of Adventure, Magic and Wonder, as the cover illustration makes clear – and each of them have a wintry theme, taking place at that time of year or somehow involving snow, or cold weather. It couldn’t be better pitched, then, to go on sale in October, when the year is beginning to get slow and creaky, and the nights are getting long, and the breeze has a bit of a bite in it. The first tale is Roddy Doyle’s The Star Dogs, which – once the intrigued reader has a handle on what’s happening – unfolds into the most wonderful imaginative landscape, at once completely separate and (because it involves dogs, and is written in such a humane and emotional way) intimately involved with a modern child’s experience. It’s touching, and exciting, and it will open the reader up to learning more about the real events surrounding the story.

I loved Judi Curtin’s How to Help Your Grandda, written entirely in letters between a small boy with a cold grandfather and the rich, if inflexible, owner of a home heating business, and the gradual relationship which grows between them. I really loved Celine Kiernan’s beautiful, if heartbreaking, story of a wintry battlefield, The Last Cat, and I read the last few pages of this story over and over because it grabbed me right in the heart and wouldn’t let go. The aforementioned Oisin McGann’s tale Across the Cold Ground is a touching tale of cameraderie and courage in the trenches of World War One, and the lengths to which a soldier will go to keep a tiny piece of home with him in the midst of an icy war zone. But my favourite story by far was Discovering Bravery by Emma Brade, the last story in the collection. Emma is a teen writer, who won a competition to be included in Beyond the Stars. Her story is beautifully written and deeply touching, telling of a young girl named Ruka who must learn, through the example of her older brother Rowan, what the meaning of courage truly is, and I loved it. I was amazed to learn the author’s age; her work easily holds its own among the other stories, and her voice is as engaging as any of her more seasoned co-authors.

Beyond the Stars is published by Harper Collins, who are donating all proceeds from its sales to Fighting Words, and it is available in all good bookshops and/or in your usual online retailers. If you have, or know, a child who likes stories (or even a big child who likes stories!) this book would make a beautiful Christmas present, and the fact that every sale is helping to fund a fantastic project like Fighting Words makes it all the better. Highly recommended.