Friday, July 22, 2016

Robert Dunbar

It was with great sadness, and a good bit of shock that, yesterday, we in the childrens' book community learned of the passing of Robert Dunbar. You see, Robert was one of those people that you would assume would always be there, challenging us, entertaining us, making us think. He was our colleague, our mentor and our friend.
Robert Dunbar was a giant among the childrens book people in Ireland. He reviewed childrens' books for the Irish Times for over 27 years. He was a founder of the Childrens Literature Association of Ireland, which blended with the Irish Childrens Book Trust to emerge as Childrens Books Ireland. Editor of two anthologies on childrens' literature in Ireland, lecturer, editor of Inis Magazine, radio commentator, CBI Book of the Year Awards (formerly the Bisto) judge; Roberts' energy and enthusiasm was enough to make you exhausted. For many of us here, he simply WAS childrens' books in Ireland. As such, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from CBI.... and no one anywhere ever deserved it more.
There is not much I can say about Robert Dunbar that hasn't already been said, and if I am honest, I feel ill-placed to be writing about him. No, we were not close friends...we didn't hang around each other much. But as a childrens' bookseller and reviewer, Roberts' views, intelligence, humour and opinion helped me navigate a course through this part of my life that made him irreplaceable in it.The few times we did meet and talk were always memorable. His passion and drive were infectious, his knowledge and reasoning was beyond that of anyone else I have met and, frankly, when it came to childrens' books, the man was always right. He was a true gift. David Maybury put it best; "He made us all better". Truer words were never spoken.
In Roberts' death notice, the family requests no flowers, please. But rather, mourners who wish to give something in his memory are asked to donate a book token to a local school library. How incredibly fitting. I hope everyone reading this, whether you are in Ireland or not, will take the time to do this in Roberts' memory. To see children reading....that would be the best gift we could give back to Robert Dunbar. I can see him smiling now....
R.I.P. will be truly missed.

Here's a link to Inis Magazines' Robert Dunbar's Top 50: the best of Irish Childrens' Books. Well worth a read...actually, well worth printing yourself a copy and having it to hand!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Judith Kerr Awarded Lifetime Achievement Award

My most heartfelt congratulations goes out to Judith Kerr, who was today awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the reading charity BookTrust in a ceremony, fittingly at the London Zoo.
Born in 1923, as a child, Judith Kerr escaped from Nazi Germany, finally arriving in the UK as a refugee. Kerr has remained there ever since.

She went on to write over 30 books for children, including her most famous, the highly successful The Tiger Who Came To Tea; not to mention the wonderful Mog series of picture books which now stands at 18 books, When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit, One Night in the Zoo, and just last year, Mr. Cleghorns' Seal.  Kerr was awarded an OBE in 2012 for her "services to childrens' literature and Holocaust education. Her books have sold over 9 million worldwide and have been translated into 25 different languages. At 93 years of age, Kerr is still going strong! Her imagination and child-like enthusiasm, as well as her gifts for writing and illustration, have made her the most beloved of childrens' authors.
The BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award is given to celebrate a body of work by an author and/or illustrator who has made an outstanding contribution to childrens' literature. I can think of no better recipient. She is utterly amazing.
Congratulations, dear Judith...and thank you for sharing your incredible gift with the world.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Gold by Geraldine Mills - What a wonderful launch!

Before any more time runs away with me, I just wanted share a few photos with you from the launch of Gold by Geraldine Mills. Last Thursday, 30th June was the evening and we had a full house for, what turned out to be the best party I'd been to in a long time. We heard from Síobhan Parkinson, editor, owner, minder of Little Island (the ONLY publishing house in Ireland dedicated solely to childrens' books), Alan McMonagle (poet, writer) who introduced Gold with insights as to why Gold is incredible for both children and adults and, of course, Geraldine, who read a passage from the story the took us all out of the dark, cold, ash-covered life of twins Starn and Esper and into the clouds on their flight for freedom. There awe, laughter and....cupcakes! (Thank you, cupcake maker....whoever you are!)
And finally, something happened that I had never seen happen before at a book launch...we sold out. How could this happen? We had loads! Well, I think it is testament to what is a truly remarkable book with those elements that touch both children and big children. While there are the 'grown-up'  concerns in the story; environment, social disarray, finance crisis, etc.; these issues never overwhelm what is at it's heart and soul an adventure story. The writing itself is lyrical and inventive, with a clear love of language and it's construction and evolution. Utterly contemporary in it's concept, it holds on to the same tradition as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Swiss Family Robinson, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. There are echoes from mythology and folk tales. The tale is complex, and yet, so simple and clear. And it is magnificent. My advise, get yourself a copy of Gold and read. Have an adventure. are a few photos of the party. A huge thank you to all who attended, Síobhan and Little Island for choosing Dubray to host the launch, Alan for his insight and fine words of introduction and, of course, to Geraldine for being warm, wonderful and for writing such an amazing book for us all to welcome into our lives.
Síobhan Parkinson from Little Island

Alan McMonagle introduces Gold

Geraldine Mills reading

Wonderful cupcakes!