Books are among the most acceptable gifts we can give to others, especially children. Here is a small selection of what is now available, for young people of all ages, with a reminder too that Christmas is still a religious celebration, whatever the bizarre commercial activities that now surround it. Remember books are not just for Christmas but for all the year round. Reading shapes growing minds and developing bodies.
A Hug for You by David King (Sandycove, €11.99)
This is book which all the world loves, recalling little Adam King’s appearance on the Late Late Toy Show back in 2020. The ever-circulating hugs he put in action then are still going because “they are for everyone”. He is, as a lady – a complete stranger – he met in a coffee shop said to him, “a real light in dark times”. In Adam’s world there are no strangers, only people he has not yet hugged.
Puffling and the Egg by Gerry Daly, illustrated by Erika McCann (O’Brien Press, €12.99)
A delightful little fable of a small puffin on Skellig Michael, who comes upon an orphaned egg (if that is the right expression), in which he makes his way around that rocky outcrop to settle its future. A book that tells smaller readers a lot about life in an engaging way.
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas Clement C. Moore, illustrations by P. J. Lynch (Walker Books, €14.99)
A long-time seasonal favourite, this poem was first published unsigned in 1823. Soon known, however, to be the work of academic, evangelical preacher and property developer, Clement Moore, it has become a Christmas fixture – especially in the US. There the holiday in some homes wouldn’t be the holiday without a reading of it around the fire. Irish families too have long enjoyed it.
Einstein the Penguin by Iona Rangly and illustrated by David Tazztman (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
Gives a new meaning to the expression “pick up a penguin”. Though it may remind many of a certain bear from Peru with a partiality for marmalade, this tale of a family who ask a smart bird back home from the zoo is great fun. I suspect he may be around for many holidays to come.
Ireland: The People, The Places, The Stories with a foreword by Dara Ó Briain (Scholastic, €12.99)
“A stunning celebration of the rich culture and fascinating history of Ireland featuring ten Irish illustrators. Discover everything that makes the Irish isle so special – from its famous landmarks to its myths and legends, from its epic battles to its incredible music…and everything in between.”
But that is only half of it. There is nothing teachery in this fine book that showcases the work of those ten Irish artists chapter by chapter, which makes for a very varied and inspiring treatment. And what curious and inquiring young reader could resist chapters on haunted Ireland, magical Ireland, underground Ireland and others that integrate people and landscape.
Girls Play Too, Book 2: More Inspiring Stories of Irish Sportswomen by Jacqui Hurley (Merrion Press, €14.95)
The story of girl power on the playing fields continues. As girl’s games at school go back as far as boys do, it is curious that they should need special celebration, except for the fact that women athletes won fame and attention with their powerful performances, and if there are to be more of them in the future, girls may need in these days of growing up too quickly to be persuaded to play on. The author calls them role models. Actually they were always heroines.
A poet for every day of the year edited by Ellie Esiri (Macmillan Children’s Books, €21.99)
A brilliantly simple idea that takes poetry completely out of school, where it really has no true place. Poetry is for private moments and personal enjoyment. Get the children in the household reading poetry at home now and they will read poetry forever (and be able to recite it too, which is more than many modern poets can do). Believe me, they will remember and thank the giver of this book for years to come.
Tree Dogs, Banshee and other Irish Words for Nature by Manchán Mangan and illustrated by Steve Doogan (Gill Books, €19.99)
The Gaelic global traveller comes home, in a sort of way, with this enthusiastic exploration of Irish nature lore, some of it very strange, explored through the Irish language. This really takes you back, echoes here of the sort of love of nature and small creatures that we find in medieval Irish poetry.
Lilly’s Dream A Lissadell Diary by Judi Curtin, illustrated by Rachel Corcoran (O’Brien Press, €12.99)
Set in the Sligo mansion with which Yeats and his friends are associated, this novel explores an aspect of the Irish past – life for servants in a big house – that is quite neglected. Out of so many books to be found in the shops around now, this is one with an unusual and original aspect. It deals with Lissadell “out of season”, so to speak in the more misty days no one talks about.
Gordon’s Game – Lions Roar by Gordon D’Arcy and Paul Howard (Sandycove, €13.99)
Grown-ups may often feel they have had quite enough of a certain rugby maniac over the years, but an enthusiasm for the game begins early and now has a character to carry school sporting adventures and misadventures. For those boys who “don’t read” this might be an ideal stocking filler.
Banshee Rising by Riley Cain (Currach Books, €12.99)
Here notions out of Irish traditional lore are re-imagined in the story of young Caitlyn McCabe’s encounters with a haunted past, aided by Prof. Sackimun Brody, through which she herself matures as a person of courage.
Make your own magic: Secrets, Stories and Tricks from a TikTok Magician by Joel M (HarperCollins, €15.99)
Having once been an enthusiast for The Boys Book of Magic found on the shelves at home – a leftover from the 1920s so far in the past – I was delighted to see this. Joel M is a star of TikTok, but as they say when it comes to stage acts ‘The auld ones are best’. The 23-year-old Ulster lad shares some secrets, but there are more to come. And there will always be an audience for magic shows of the traditional kind, redressed for the modern day. And at €15.99 it is a book that may well persuade some young people there is more to life than becoming another accountant.
Spiritual and religious books for children
The Christmas Story by Juliet David illustrated by Elina Ellis (Lion Hudson, €5.95)
Retold from the New Testament in an accessible text for young readers and linked with reader friendly contemporary style pictures. Only through books like these can the true meaning of the season come alive for children. Every household should have a book like this.
A Robin’s Tale by Noelle Rock illustrated by Sasha Sakhnevich (Currach Books, €14.99)
In this present situation the passing of loved ones is a real presence. Noelle Rock in this tale for children presents a way in which parents can deal with the theme of death in the family in a way of love and compassion. A title to note perhaps, but many will find this book a great resource, if not for now, for some future date.
100 Best Christmas Poems edited by Roger McGough (SPCK, €10.50)
A lovely collection of poems on Christmas themes brought together by long-established Liverpool poet Roger McGough. Ideal for reading in the family group, but also for personal reading. If Christmas means anything at all it is the continuity of tradition, but only by immersion in the past can modern children learn about tradition of both family and faith.
The Same but Different by Emer O’Neill, illustrated by Debby Rahmalia (Gill Books, €14.99)
“If we all looked just the same how boring life would be. The things that make me different are the things that make me me!”
Emer O’Neill is a mother of two. Born and raised in Ireland, she is Irish/Nigerian and a native of Bray, Co. Wicklow. She teaches physical education and is a presenter on RTÉ home school hub.
So this tale is very much a reflection of the author’s own experience. But we all need to be more aware of just how many new communities there now are in Ireland, and that everyone needs to do more to make Ireland a real home for us all.
Banshee Rising and A Robin’s Tale are available at Currach Books.