Fallen Stars' Best Books of the Year; part one
A week ago, I had the pleasure of being on Galway Bay FM radios' The Arts Show with Vinny Brown. Vinny (from Charlie Byrnes Bookshop, as well as the shows' host), Des Kenny (from the world-famous Kenny's Bookshop) and I spent the hour talking our 'best books' of the season and year...and we could have gone on for another hour!
Now, I thought I'd share my kids highlights from the show, as well as a few others I didn't get to say much about. Books are frequently left to the last minute when buying seasonal gifts, so perhaps this will help.
The first book I talked about is a beautiful book for everyone, young or old. The Lost Words written by Robert MacFarlane with extraordinary illustrations by Jackie Morris was written as a response to the removal of a number of words from the Oxford Childrens' Dictionary. It was claimed these words from the natural world no longer had relevance in childrens' lives.MacFarlanes' response is a series of poems based on these words, placed within Morris' illustrations create an atmospheric and moving book that gives us all much to ponder, enjoy and learn from.This should be in every house.
In the same segment, I also presented the wonderful poetry collection for children, A Sailor Went To Sea Sea Sea by Sarah Webb, illustrated by Steve McCarthy. Loaded with more favourite rhymes (as a follow-up to Sally Go Round The Stars), it also includes selections from Yeats and Joyce for young ones. With McCarthys' illustrations filling each page, this book is simply joyous.
And Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls was praised all the way around. Each page holds a story about an amazing woman from history, from ancient to contemporary times. I didn't get to mention Dara O'Briains' book, Beyond the Sky; an informative and fascinating book on the Universe for young people...and for you, too. You'll learn a lot and be inspired to learn more.
I had to talk a bit about my favourite picture books, and first on the list was The Presidents' Glasses by Peter Donnelly. I have to use the word joyous again, because that's what this book is; a joyous tale of Irish President Michael D Higgins, a forgotten pair of glasses and a pigeon hero. There's also
Franklin's Flying Bookshop by Jen Campbell, illustrated by Katie Harnett, a wonderful story of friendship, acceptance and books. And La La La by Kate DiCamillo, illustrations by Jaime Kim is a nearly wordless book about a lonely girl who simply wants to be heard.
Magically, it is the moon that responds. Exceptional fare from an author who simply cannot write a bad book...seriously, everything DiCamillo writes is absolute gold dust. But my picture book of the year has to be On A Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemanga. The story and the pictures are simply perfect.
As we move into 'proper books', I want to give a couple of recommendations for younger, yet confident readers. King Coo by Adam Stower is wonderful, hilarious and filled with adventure...and a girl with a beard. It is a must-read! And it is with great happiness to let you all know that Laura James has brought back everyones' favourite canine for another adventure, Safari Pug. Just brilliant! A great surprise for me in this reading level was Toto the Ninja Cat and the Great Snake Escape by Dermot O'Leary...a rollicking adventure that will leave you laughing out loud.
Middle-Grade books occupy the largest share of book interest. Nine to 12 years has been called 'the Golden Age of Reading'..and rightly so. The quality keeps getting better and better. I've reviewed many of these on this blog, but now I'll mention the few I spoke about on the radio. I must recommend a beautiful and unique book, The Dollmaker of Krakow by R M Romero. A gripping story that combines historical fiction with old Polish folklore, this book is timeless and moving, with beautiful illustrations throughout that create something both very real and very surreal.
But, my MG book of the year has to be Letters From The Lighthouse by Emma Carroll. This is one that will stick you for a long time. A story of the World War 2 evacuations of children from London (to the Devon Coast, in this case) the kinder-transport, refugees and a cracking great mystery combine for a story that pushes the reader to further understanding while entertaining greatly. Just read it...you won't be sorry.
I need to mention Nevermoor: The Chronicles of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend for incredible fantasy. And also can't forget The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnsley...a wonderful fairy-tale like story with great characters and setting, haunting writing. Winner of the Newbery Award, don't miss it!
Tomorrow night, I'll continue with the teen and YA books...some incredible reads for the young people in your life that can be the most difficult to chose for...their tastes change, their comprehension increases and more complex books take precedence.
Good night for now!