Christmas books for young adults and children

Christmas time is one of the great books buying season of the year. For children and young adults especially the shops are filled with a bonanza of books, of all kinds for all kinds of taste.
While it is said that girls take more easily to reading, they often prefer story books about girls, relationships and ponies; boys, on the other hand seem to prefer adventure books and books about sport and war. These tastes may be lamented by the progressive, but them seem to be reading tastes that have existed since books began to circulate, and can be found everywhere in the world. So don’t worry about it. The main thing is that young people of all ages and sexes are encouraged to read widely and energetically.
In this week’s books pages are suggested some title which readers will fi nd appropriate one way or the other…

Small children

Pigín of Howth

by Kathleen Watkins 

(Gill Books, €14.99)

Some of the most famous stories in children’s literature (such as The Wind in the Willows) began as stories told to the author’s own children and grandchildren. Kathleen Watkins, already so well known as musician in her own right, at the age of 82 is sharing with the world the tales she told to her young folk many years ago. 

The adventures of Pigín and his friends take place in an already familiar landscape, but have a wonderful novelty of their own.  W. B. Yeats, who lived in Howth as a boy, felt it was one of the most fey places in Ireland, and something of that magic seems to have been imparted to Ms Watkins. Perhaps here we are seeing the first appearance of a new Patricia Lynch.


Belfast-born artist Oliver Jeffers both creates his own books and illustrated those of others. He is a wonderful artist, and his work is filled with a gentler pathos that is very heart-warming. This season he illustrates A Child of Books,  by Sam Winston (Walker Books, €14.00), in which a small girl and a boy she meets set out to explore the sea of words and the stories that it makes up.

Also available An Alphabet (HarperCollins, €11.99) and Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. (HarperCollins €9.99)

For older readers Jeffers also illustrates a special reissue of John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (Doubleday Children. €16.99), which is now something of a modern classic.


Snow Beast

by Chris Judge 

(Andersen Press, £10.00)

Not exactly new, and part of a series that has proved very popular, this is a lovely little story of detection in which Beast has to discover what has happened to the tools the villagers are to use to create thier winter festival. He tracks them down in the hands of a Snow Beast, who lives in a moving iceberg. Having repaired the iceberg they invite the villagers to hold their festivities there. Energetic, lively, and seasonal.


The Extra Special Baby. The Story of the Christmas Promise

by Antonia Woodward 

(Lion Books, €9.99)

With lovely age appropriate illustrations this little book presents in a simple but satisfactory way the true inner meaning of the Nativity for young readers. Christmas is the best time to start a child reading books relating to their faith. Parents don’t have to leave it all to the schools – or to the playground chatter.



Younger teens  

The Best Friend

by Pauline Devine 

(Raison, €8.99)

A redesigned reissue of a best seller from 1993 by Pauline Devine (the author of several other books as well, two in Gaelic), with illustrations by Sheena Dempsey. This will delight all those pony mad girls in the country, but is essentially a story of affection, friendship and adventure set in the Irish countryside, which a new generation will greatly enjoy. The author is already a popular speaker in schools around the country. 


The Darkest Dark

by Chris Hadfield, with illustrations by the Fan Brothers, Terry and Eric 

(Macmillan, €13.99)

This book, by Canadian spaceman Chris Hadfield, is a young person’s story inspired by his own experiences both as a child and man.  

Like so many children Chris Hadfield was a  bedroom spaceman, saving the world from those aliens that suddenly seem to be swarming all over the place in since the 1950s. However, reality in its own way transformed the child’s fear of the night-time dark through watching on TV (as so many billions did) the Apollo 11 first landing on another world, he realised that imagination might grow into something else. He was set on his ambition to fly in space himself. (But see also the book by astronaut Mike Massimino mentioned below, for an older readers account of such a career.)


The Names Upon the Harp 

by Marie Heaney, illustrations by P. J. Lynch 

(Faber & Faber, £14.99)

Following in the footsteps of Padraic Colum, Eileen O’Faolain, and Patricia Lynch, Marie Heaney presents a selection of the ancient myths and legend for readers upwards of eight years. It is by way of being a sort of successor to her earlier book of Irish legends Over the Nine Waves (from the same publisher in 2000). But many will find her style and her writing well worth reading themselves. 

The book is also graced, not only by P. J. Lynch’s evocative illustrations, but also by a previously unpublished poem translated from the Gaelic by the late Seamus Heaney.



text by John Burke, pictures by Fatti Burke 

(Gill, €24.99)

This book is distinguished by Kathi (‘Fatti’) Burke’s illustrations, which add colour to a text which her father, a retired National School teacher has created. It is intended to introduce younger readers to the long course of Irish history, but perhaps does not manage to break with the traditional tale of courageous Celts, rampaging Vikings and rebellious Republicans (their words not mine). 

If this sounds a little like Carty revisited it is, but with a great deal of other material about many aspects of  our island’s past, presented in  simple and straight forward way, even for those who believe history is by no means simple and straightforward.



Older Teens and Young Adults

Minecraft: Exploded Builds — Medieval Fortress

by Mojang Studio 

(Egemont €14.99)

For many at the moment the Minecraft series of PC games, videos and books is the thing , so much so that is has become the greatest best seller in its field in history. 

Minecraft Exploded Builds is a medieval-themed building book, packed with guides, schematics and inspirational ideas to construct defend and customise your own castle. Designed in an aged, medieval style, the book features dozens of builds, each illustrated with a detailed ‘exploded’ view, so readers can see exactly which blocks are used in the structures, both inside and out. 

With hundreds of variations and additional features, readers can personalise every aspect of their medieval fortress. Parents aren’t likely to be able to resist this tide, so why not join it with what is one of the best offers from the Morang Studio, which has been widely praised by reviewers and award panels.


Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the S ecrets of the Universe, 

by Mike Massimino 

(Simon & Schuster, £ 20.00)

Mike Massimino had a high profile career as a cosmonaut, or what the Americans prefer to call an astronaut.  A bright boy, with a love of science and engineering, he was demined from an early age to become a spaceman. But he found that many things, such as his poor eyesight had to be dealt with, before he achieved his dream. 

A wonderful story of determination, persistence, and ultimate achievement. This is a book which not only a young adult science buff, the science buff’s dad will also enjoy.


Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons? And 199 other questions from Catholic Teenagers

by Matthew Pinto 

(Ascension Press, $13.99)

This may not seem an ideal Christmas present but just think about it. With over 130,000 copies sold, this very popular, easy-to-understand book captures the imaginations of teenagers (and adults) by answering some of today’s toughest questions. It is one of the most comprehensive question-and-answer resources available for young Catholics. 

They don’t have to drop away from what their parents believe, but the trouble maybe that their parents are as ill-informed as they are. “Start answering the questions you did not know you had about our Catholic faith,” the publishers say about the usefulness of this book, and they may well be right.


The Illustrated Bible: Story by Story

edited by Michael Collins 

(DK Publishing, €39.95)

Edited by a well-known Dublin curate with the aid of a team of international scripture scholars, to provide an account of the Bible, not just young adults but also for adults. Richly illustrated with art images of many centuries this may provide an essential reference and go-to- book for the whole family. 

Not perhaps the conventional idea of a Christmas present, but something of a gift that goes on giving all the year round.


The Moon Spun Round

poems by W. B. Yeats selected by Noreen Doody, illustrations are by Shona Shirley MacDonald 

(O’Brien Press, €19.99)

The poems of Ireland greatest poet, bar none, lodge easily in the memory, especially the earlier ones. It is never too early to have the Lake Isle and Down by the Sally Garden by heart. But this illustrated book spreads it’s net wider. 

This is a book which through contact with a great  artist might well transform many young lives. But it contains more than the poems. Here are stories, tales, and his own daughter the painter and designer Anne Yeats’ memories of her own early years.  

The suitable illustrations by Shona Shirley MacDonald wonderfully reflect the poet’s magical vision. (Reminiscent of the elfin illustrations of Richard Doyle, they echo without copying the visual world in which the poet himself grew up).

Novels young adults will enjoy
So many books aimed at younger adults are merely so much commercial mush. But here are three books which raise above all that, and create that bridge to the adult world of literature and writing which everyone should make…

Minds of Winter

by Ed O’Loughlin 

(Quercus / Riverrun, €16.99) 

This is a widely praised novel by Canadian-Irish author and journalist, Ed O’Loughlin. Never mind about Tom Crean and Ernest Shakelton, great figures that they were, here is an array of tragic ‘missing’ characters who brave the terrible wildernesses of the Poles. O’Loughlin makes imaginative use of many polar explorers in a truly haunting manner. 

This book will carry maturing readers from the high heroics of exploration into that more mysterious realm, the human mind and imagination, creratign from the factual and creative interpretation of life and it’s potential. A book not to be missed.


The Underground Railway

by Colson Whitehead 

(Little, Brown & Co. / Fleet, £14.99)  

Here is a novel from a Black American journalist and novelist about the real “underground railway” by which runaway slaves were carried carried north through the Free States of the Union to Canada, passing from person to person and safe house to safe house. This was defining experience in the making of modern America, one which recent events cannot change. 

This novel won the National Book Award, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the United States. There is much to admire in the writing, but also much to learn about life and history. Another book for the mature young reader with developed literary tastes.


The Essex Serpent

Sarah Perry 

(Serpent’s Tail, £14.99)

Here is a book, long and detailed in the Victorian manner, which will be for the Harry Potter fan of Fabulous Beasts who have finally grown up. 

Has a strange flying reptile made much of in the pamphlet literature of the 17the Century returned to haunt a remote quarter of Essex in the form of a sort of Loch Ness monster? The rector may believe that people need God in their lives, but for others the discoveries of palaeontology, of weird prehistoric beasts, pose a challenge. 

Though it explores the fears and hopes of late Victorian society, this is a book which poses questions to for the modern reader and the problem of our now and our future. This too is a book which has been widely praised and is well worth reading. For many young adults it may make a bridge to the literary world of the great Victorian novelists.