There are some fantastic books for children and teenagers on the way in 2017, including a picture book from the dream team of Julia Donaldson and Helen Oxenbury and the second in Dave Rudden’s exceptional Knights of the Borrowed Dark fantasy adventure series.jumperee

The Bookseller magazine, the bible for the book trade sees ‘Middle Grade’ (age 9+) books as a big trend for 2017 and there are certainly some strong books for this age group coming through, including See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng (Penguin Random House Children’s, March) the story of an eleven year old boy who wants to launch his iPod into space to talk to other lifeforms; and Fish Boy by Chloe Daykin (Faber, also March), a beautifully written debut about a lonely boy who is obsessed with swimming.

January sees the publication of Wing Jones by Katherine Webber (Walker Books), a novel about identity, family and running for age 12+; and Julian Gough and Jim Field are back with Rabbit and Bear: The Pest in the Nest (Hodder), another funny, noisy adventure for early readers.

There’s been a lot of talk about Wed Rabbit by Lissa Evans (David Fickling), the story of ten year old Fidge and her spoilt cousin, Grahame who find themselves in a magical world that looks strangely like the picture book Fidge reads to her little sister at bedtime. Also January.

Adult writer, Emily Barr’s first YA novel, The One Memory of Flora Banks (Penguin Random House Children’s) is gripping. Seventeen year old Flora has anterograde amnesia and can’t recall day to day things. But when she wakes up the morning after her first kiss, she remembers it and sets off for the Arctic in search of the boy and her memories. (Mid-January)one memory

Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan’s We Come Apart (Bloomsbury) is a key title in February, a novel in free verse about Romanian teen, Nicu and English girl, Jess. For younger children, Lucy Cousins is back with a vibrant new picture book, A Busy Day for Birds (Walker Books); and Cass and The Bubble Street Gang: The Clubhouse Mystery by Erika McGann (O’Brien Press) sounds fun for young readers of age 7+. Also from an Irish publisher, this time Little Island Books, is A Dangerous Crossing by Jane Mitchell, the story of a boy fleeing from Syria. Age 11+.

Fast Forward by Judi Curtin (O’Brien Press) is being published for World Book Day on the 2nd March for age 8+; and also in March, The Space Between by Meg Grehan (Little Island) is a love story in verse for teenagers about friendship and mental health. Grehan is only twenty-four and this is her first book. Gill Books have the Naturama Nature Journal for budding naturalists, by Michael Fewer and illustrated by Melissa Doran.

The Forever Court, book 2 in the Knights of the Borrowed Dark series by Dave Rudden, (Penguin Random House Children’s) is coming in April featuring battles in ‘quiet Dublin bookshops’.forever court

Also in April, We’re All Wonders by RJ Palacio (Penguin Random House Children’s) sees the return of Auggie from the original novel, Wonder which has sold over five million copies worldwide. There is a movie of Wonder coming in 2017 so expect a lot of noise around this new book too.

The Giant Jumperee (Penguin Random House Children’s) is a new picture book by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by the multi award-winning Helen Oxenbury. Rabbit is in his burrow when he hears a voice outside: ‘I’m the Giant Jumperee and I’m as scary as can be.’ (April again.)

And finally in April, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Walker Books) is getting a lot of pre-publication attention both here and in the US. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s a YA novel about prejudice in the 21st century.

In May we have Keepsake by Paula Leyden (Little Island), about two children and their race to save their beloved horse, Storm. Age 8+.

June sees the return of Derek Landy’s hugely popular Skulduggery Pleasant series with book ten in the series (Harpercollins); and Moira Fowley-Doyle’s new book, Spellbook of the Lost and Found, about six Irish teenagers who find a sinister book.

In August we have The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens (Penguin Random House Children’s), the sequel to the London Eye Mystery by the late Siobhan Dowd, a clever way of keeping Dowd’s work alive.

Robin Stevens

Robin Stevens

September sees the return of feisty heroine, Ebony Smart in The Book of Revenge, the last book in the Nine Lives trilogy by E R Murray (Mercier); and Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan and illustrated by Karen Vaughan (Little Island) takes Cinderella and other tales and gives them a ‘dark, witchy makeover’. Perfect for the lead up to Hallowe’en.

Sarah Webb writes for both adults and children. Her new poetry and rhyme collection for children, A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea, illustrated by Steve McCarthy will be published by O’Brien Press in the autumn. She is currently Writer in Residence for Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown.

This article first appeared in The Irish Independent

 

If by Rudyard Kipling

 

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

 

From: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)

 

From now until June 2017 I have the great privilege of being the dlr Writer in Residence. I have a lovely room on the top floor of the Lexicon Library in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin and I’m hosting lots of book clubs, writing clubs and book events. October has been such a fun month.

Teen Creatives with Dave Rudden

Dave in Action

Dave in Action

We kicked off our Teen Creatives series with a writing workshop with the wonderful Dave Rudden. Dave’s first book, Knights of the Borrowed Dark came out in March this year and is a stunning piece of work – a fantasy-adventure with lots of twists. (I mentioned this event briefly in the September blog.)

Dave explained that his book is basically a ‘Kid Discovers Magic’ story – but he made it different to all the other books based on a similar premise (including a certain young wizard) by asking himself questions about the plot and the main character.

Who is the kid? Denizen Hardwick

When does his discover his magic? In an orphanage on the day he turns 13

What happens next?

‘On a particularly dark night, the gates of Crosscaper Orphanage open to a car that almost growls with power. The car and the man in it retrieve Denizen with the promise of introducing him to a long-lost aunt. But on the ride into the city, they are attacked. Denizen soon learns that monsters can grow out of the shadows. And there is an ancient order of knights who keep them at bay. Denizen has a unique connection to these knights, but everything they tell him feels like a half-truth. If Denizen joins the order, is he fulfilling his destiny, or turning his back on everything his family did to keep him alive?’

He gave a fantastic workshop – thanks, Dave! Up next is Oisin McGann – more about that session next month.

Roald Dahl Family Day

The Lexicon Library hosted a Roald Dahl themed Family Day on 8th October and over two thousand children and adults enjoyed workshops, comedy shows and the Great Big Dahl Show with Grainne Clear, Dave Rudden, Stephen James Smith and Enda Reilly.

The Dahl Gang

The Dahl GangBook 

Book Club

The Book Club gave Boy by Roald Dahl the thumbs up and also loved Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan. Everyone agreed that the artwork was amazing.

Next month’s books are Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers and Beyond the Stars, edited by me!

Writing Club

The young writers visited the Municipal Gallery in the Lexicon and wrote short pieces about some of the art works. We talked about the art and how it made us feel. It’s a wonderful exhibition called Lines of Negotiation and is all about our relationship with the landscape. It runs until 5th November and is well worth seeing.

One of the Artworks from the Exhibition

One of the Artworks from the Exhibition

Library Voices

I managed to catch Library Voices with Margaret Atwood in the Pavilion on Sunday 9th October. My friend, Bert Wright (also my co-curator on the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival) programmes these wonderful events.

The Patrick Kavanagh one man play in the Studio in the Lexicon was also most interesting.

St Michan’s Crypt

I also visited our family crypt under St Michan’s Church in Dublin. It was quite the experience. If you’ve never been down there, do go – it’s fascinating and full of history.

St Michan's Crypt

St Michan’s Crypt

Dalkey Library Baby Book Club

I was back in Dalkey for Baby Book Club and we made these spooky ghosts with cotton wool. Our theme: Hallowe’en of course! Next Baby Book Club is Monday 21st November at 10.30am in Dalkey Library.

writer in res 2

 Drop In Writing Clinics

The drop in writing clinics are proving very popular and I talked to many writers, young and old this month about their work. It’s great to see so much creativity happening in Dun Laoghaire!

We are now taking bookings for the clinic on Wednesday 30th November. Email dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie to book a place.

Writer in Residence Podcasts

The Writer in Residence podcasts are now up on the dlr libraries website – do take a look! Watch me talk to Eoin Colfer and Marita Conlon McKenna about their work, and recommend some of my favourite children’s books.

Meet the Author – Eoin Colfer

Bualadh Bos Children’s Festival in Limerick

I spent a few days in Limerick helping run the literature strand of this great children’s festival. We held talks and workshops by Margaret Ann Suggs, Shane Hegarty, Grainne Clear, Derek Landy, Patricia Forde, Dave Rudden and local writer, Judi Curtin. It was a fantastic trip.

Grainne Clear Interviewing Derek Landy at Bualadh Bos

Grainne Clear Interviewing Derek Landy at Bualadh Bos

Writing

In 2017 my poetry and rhyme collection, A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea will be published by O’Brien Press. It will be illustrated by Steve McCarthy and I will be working on the final selection and the edits during my time as Writer in Residence.

And finally, I wrote a picture book this month all about puddles. It was inspired by gazing out my Writer in Residence window one very rainy day!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

 

In June I was chosen to be the Writer in Residence in my local area, Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown (DLR). I first spotted the ad for the role in the new, state of the art Lexicon library in Dún Laoghaire, an apt place to see it as the Writer in Residence room is on the top level of the very same library. It caught my eye because the residency’s focus is on children, young people and families – one of my favourite audiences to write and to run events for.

To apply you had to write about your ‘artistic ideas and approaches’ and suggest some ways that you’d engage with readers in the library. At the top of my application I put this quote from Pablo Picasso:

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.

Something I firmly believe.

Here are some extracts from my application:

I believe that creative children and teens are happy children and teens. I believe the arts and in particular reading and writing for pleasure, play a vital role in every young person’s life.

I believe in the power of story to connect us all to the wider world, to engage our minds and fire our imaginations.

I believe that the act of writing a book, with all its steps – from the very first germ of an idea, to thinking about the characters and plot, to writing the first draft, to re-writing and working on it again and again – helps build resilience in children and teens.

I finished by saying: I’d like this residency to be all about inspiration, creativity, building confidence in young readers and writers, and sharing the joy of books and writing.

I hope I achieve it – I’ll do my very best!

What I’ll Be Up to During My Residency

During my residency I’ll be hosting book clubs for children and writing clubs for children and teens. I’ll be organising book events, reading manuscripts and recommending books. The clubs all start in September – see the What’s On guide in the library or the library website for details: http://libraries.dlrcoco

I’ll also be spending time on my own writing. My writing base for the year will be the Writer in Residence room in the extraordinary Lexicon Library and Cultural Centre. Here’s a photo of my desk – it has a stunning view of the sea:

My Desk
My Desk

And here is a family visiting last week:

My First Visitors
My First Visitors

Here is the Children’s Library which is crammed with thousands of fantastic children’s books:

The Children's Library
The Children’s Library

And here is the Teen area which also has a 3D printer:

The Teen Area
The Teen Area

There is also a lovely cafe area where you can sit and watch the world go by over a hot chocolate:

Brambles Cafe
Brambles Cafe

So far, I’ve been working on a script for a play for children and families based on an award-winning picture book – more about that soon, and three picture books, two with a library theme, one about a baby whale. I’ve also been planning the year – putting together notes for the various book club and writing clubs.

Watch this space to see what I get up to next!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog also appeared on the Girls Heart Books website - an excellent website for readers of age 8 to 14.

 

WordCon 2016: A Words Ireland conference about festivals and author care

 Yesterday I attended a conference in the National Library all about book festivals and how festival organisers and programmers can support writers.words ireland

Some interesting thoughts and statistics came out of the day. These are some of the most important ones:

1/ Writers must to be able to communicate with an audience to be successful at a festival. (Patrick Cotter, Munster Literature Festival)

For my blog on pitching to book festivals, what festivals are looking for and how to improve your events see here

2/ All writers, artists and moderators MUST be paid a fee

‘Writers are professionals and should be paid a professional fee.’ Bert Wright from Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival (Dun Laoghaire)

ILFD (Irish Literature Festival Dublin) pays a min fee to writers of e300

Joanne Harris, one of the speakers at WordCon

Joanne Harris, one of the speakers at WordCon

Listowel Writers’ Week pays a similar fee

Dublin Book Festival (which focuses on Irish writers) pays a min of e100

Mountains to Sea min is e150

Munster Literature Centre min is e250

At the event it was generally agreed that e300 was a fee for festivals to aspire to, although for panel events and smaller festivals this may not be possible.

3/ If a festival cannot afford to pay the writers, it should not go ahead (Bert Wright again)

All agreed with this.

4/ The average earning of a writer in the UK is £11k

Only 10% of writers make a full time living from writing and writing associated work (events etc).

5/ Writers should NOT have to provide and sell their own books at festivals – it is up to the book festival to arrange this. Argosy Wholesale can help provide books. Or ask Poetry Ireland or Children’s Books Ireland for advice.

6/ A good chair or moderator is vital to a successful panel event. Programmers should be inventive when pairing up artists. Joanne Harris suggested pairing up interesting writers – herself, Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman talking about fairy tales would be her dream panel!

Sarah Bannan from the Arts Council spoke about using partnerships and mixing up the different art forms – writers and musicians for eg.

7/ When emailing a writer about an event be clear about the fee, the date and what you’d like them to do – Joanne Harris said.

You can email writers directly or use social media to contact them.

8/ ‘There should be zero tolerance for low or no fees,’ said Sarah Bannan from the Arts Council. ‘We need a change in attitude.’

9/ The Irish government needs to support the arts – book festivals need public funding.

10/ Writers do not make money from book sales at festivals.

Joanne Harris explained that to break event at a festival she would have to sell 100 hardback books at £10 per book. 1 in 10 of an audience might buy a book – which means she’d need a theatre of 1,000 people just to break even.

Well done to Words Ireland for arranging a most interesting and stimulating day. There will be another in the autumn. They will post a document about the conference on their website in a few months’ time they promised.

From the start of this year I have turned down any request that does not pay a fee. If I do not charge for my experience and talent what chance does a young or new writer have of getting paid for their work?

I would encourage you all to do the same. Ask for a fair fee. Value your work, writers!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

 

Chapter 5

  1. We realise from the first chapter that Flora is often less responsible than her daughter is and now we see that Flora doesn’t tell Mollie that she can’t meet her as they’d planned. Flora allows her own mother to break the unpleasant news to Mollie. Take a moment to think quietly about what might have caused Flora to shirk the unpleasant task. Can you understand why she might have done so? Can you empathise with her? (Try not to be too hard on her – grown-ups make mistakes too!)
  2. Mollie is deeply disappointed that she can’t go to Paris, but there may be other emotions at play in her reaction to the news. Can you name some of these, and say if you think her reaction is understandable? How do you think you’d have reacted to the news? Can you suggest a different and better way to deal with unexpected emotions?
  3. Have you ever been away from your family for a long period? Can you imagine what it would feel like to leave your home even for a month? Draw a large heart on an A4 page. Draw a line down the middle to split the heart in two. On one side, write a list of all the things you’d miss about your home if you had to leave. On the other, write a list of the ten things you’d most like to take with you. As you work, think about the choices that refugee children have to make when they are forced to leave their homes, perhaps for ever.
  4. Draw some paper dolls, the sort that Mollie used to make with Granny Ellen. [You will find printable dolls and even some clothes with tabs online if drawing isn’t your favourite subject!] Draw or print one for each character you’ve met so far. In each doll-shape, write as many descriptive words and phrases as you can think of for each of the characters. So, Flora’s doll might say ‘disorganised’ ‘irresponsible’ and Mollie’s might say ‘perceptive’ ‘hot-headed’ etc Add more adjectives to the characters as you read through the book.
  5. What do you think will happen between Lauren’s twin, Landy and Mollie? Do you think they will get on and become friends? Write your predictions in your notebook and see if you were right when you get to the end. In fact, now might be a good time to write your predictions for all the characters – see if you have the same ideas as the author!
  6. Slí an Atlantaigh: Little Bird is a small island off the coast of Ireland and Mollie thinks there it’s boring, boring, boring, with nothing to do and nothing to see, except maybe some tractor-spotting! As you read, make a note of all the attractions on the island, and design a brochure to encourage tourists to visit. And/or choose some part of the Wild Atlantic Way and design a brochure that Fáilte Ireland might use to attract more visitors to our western coast.

Chapter 6

  1. Once again, Mollie has had trouble sleeping. Can you list the reasons she might be finding it difficult to sleep? Have you ever found it difficult to sleep? Were you worried /excited about something? Can you recall your thoughts as you lay awake? If you’re lucky enough to sleep soundly every night, close your eyes and try to picture yourself lying awake – what might you be thinking?
    1. Mollie treasures the gloves her granny had knitted for her eighth birthday. Did you ever get a present that meant a great deal to you? If not, visualise something that you would love to receive on your birthday – no cars or swimming pools, please, try to think of something you might be likely to get from an older relative! Describe this present to your partner/group. Don’t tell them what it is, but let them draw or paint as you describe the colour, texture, shape etc Do your recognise your present in the painting(s)? Can you draw the present more accurately? What might the variety of interpretations tell you about the way we see things?
    2. There’s ‘an awkward silence’ after Mollie mentions Alanna’s parents and discovers that they’re ‘not around.’ Have you ever said /asked something that caused embarrassment or awkwardness? Think about some awkward or embarrassing moment and reflect on what gave rise to it. Do such moments teach young people to recognise the importance of care, courtesy and consideration with others?
    3. Alanna gives Mollie a potion to help her sleep, but what she really wants is something to make her feel less lonely. Many primary schools use Buddy Stops for the junior classes, others train senior pupils to make sure no-one looks lonely or friendless in the yard. Can you write a formula or magic potion that might help Mollie/ any child feel less lonely in school? Be creative!
    4. Flora has always liked to move around a lot and so Mollie has been enrolled in many schools. People react to change with varying degrees of excitement, anticipation, fear, anxiety etc Do you view change as an opportunity or as a problem, or might you have mixed feelings depending on the change involved? Take a few minutes to discuss with your partner/ group.
    5. The school uniform Nan brings back is scratchy and beetroot-coloured – (are all school uniforms scratchy?) – but Mollie isn’t used to wearing a full uniform. What is your opinion of school uniforms? You might do a survey on the opinion of your class/ school and/or have a class debate to tease out the advantages and disadvantages of being dressed exactly like all your fellow pupils. You could address your findings to the Students’ Union/Council and/or the Board of Management of your school.
 

This piece originally appeared in the Sunday Independent.

This year looks all set to be a stellar one for children’s books and Irish YA in particular will blaze a trail in 2016. There are new titles from ‘brand names’ such as Julia Donaldson, Eoin Colfer and Derek Landy, plenty of interesting debuts, and some intriguing books from ‘grown up’ bestsellers, Cecelia Ahern and Sheila O’Flanagan.

crystal run

The current Children’s Laureate, Eoin Colfer’s Ironman novel for children is due in the autumn from Marvel. According to Colfer, the billionaire playboy Tony Stark is all set to get the ‘Dublin treatment’. Penguin Random House Children’s lead title this spring is Dave Rudden’s The Knights of the Borrowed Dark (March), the first in a trilogy featuring Denizen Hardwick, a boy who doesn’t believe in magic until he’s ambushed by a monster created from shadows.

HarperCollins is very excited about Cecelia Ahern’s  debut YA (Young Adult) novel, Flawed, set in a society where perfection is everything (March); and Hachette is publishing Sheila O’Flanagan’s fantasy debut for age 10+, The Crystal Run (May). Gill and Macmillan has their first YA novel ever in April, from a writer who is only a teenager herself, sixteen-year-old Eilís Barrett. Her book, Oasis is set in the future and follows a group of teen outcasts turned freedom fighters.

Little Island, the children’s answer to Tramp Press, has been making waves with their strong fiction list, and 2016 is no exception. First up in February is Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan for young adult and adult readers, a novel about child abuse and its aftermath which I read in one sitting. It’s not an easy read for obvious reasons, but like Louise O’Neill’s Asking for It, it’s an important and beautifully written book.needlework

Also from Little Island for older teen readers is Anna Seidl’s No Heros (March), the story of a school shooting and its aftermath, a publishing sensation in its native Germany; and in May they launch The Best Medicine by Belfast woman, Christine Hamill. Twelve-year-old Philip’s mum has breast cancer and he writes to Harry Hill for advice.

Kim Hood’s debut YA novel, Finding a Voice was shortlisted for the prestigious YA Book Prize in the UK last year and her second novel, Plain Jane is out in April from O’Brien Press. The story of a sixteen-year-old girl whose sister has cancer, it’s one I’m particularly looking forward to as I love her fresh, vibrant writing voice.

The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood (Macmillan, May) follows 17-year-old physics prodigy Gottie Oppenheimer as she navigates a summer of both grief and rips in the space-time continuum; and The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse (Macmillan, April) is a World War II story set in Amsterdam about a young woman who gets involved with the resistance.

Puffin Ireland Editor, Claire Hennessy’s YA novel, Nothing Tastes as Good is published by Hot Key in July and is already creating quite a stir. Annabel is a recently deceased anorexic teen who finds herself assigned as a ghostly ‘helper’ to Julia, another girl with an eating problem. Brian Conaghan’s The Bombs That Brought Us Together (Bloomsbury, April), dealing with terrorism and war, also sounds promising; and Derek Landy is back with the second book in his Demon Road fantasy-horror trilogy, Desolation (HarperCollins).

For readers of age 9+, there’s book three of Shane Hegarty’s Darkmouth series, Chaos Descends (HarperCollins, April);  and the latest novel by Brian Gallagher (O’Brien Press, April) called Arrivals, about a Canadian murder mystery in 1928. Ger Siggins is back with another book in his popular sport series, Rugby Flyer (O’Brien Press, February); and Matt Griffin tackles a war between the humans and the ancient fairy race in Stormweaver (O’Brien Press, April).darkmouth 3

It’s great to see Cork man, Kieran Crowley back with The Mighty Dynamo (Macmillan, May), about a boy who dreams of being a professional footballer;      and I’m currently reading the exquisitely written Anna and the Swallow Man by New York based actor and writer, Gavriel Savit (Penguin Random House Children’s, 28th January), set during World War II.

And finally for this age group, the outstanding American writer, Kate DiCamillo returns with Raymie Nightingale, a novel about three girls and a friendship that will change their lives (Walker Books).

Poolbeg will add Maebh Banrion na Troda (February) and Sceal Naomh Padraig  (March) to their Nutshell library for younger readers; and the ultimate staying-between-the-lines challenge has to be the Where’s Wally? Colouring Book coming from Walker Books in June.

Sarah Bowie’s picture book, Let’s See Ireland (O’Brien Press, April) has striking artwork; and finally Julia Donaldson’s Detective Dog, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie (Macmillan, June) about Nell, a dog with an extra keen sense of smell sounds just the book to make both children and parents smile.

A Spread from Let's See Ireland

A Spread from Let’s See Ireland

Sarah Webb’s next book for children, The Songbird Cafe Girls: Aurora and the Popcorn Dolphin (Walker Books) will be published in March. 

Aurora Book Cover

eoin colferEoin Colfer was announced as the third Laureate na nÓg, Children’s Laureate of Ireland, at a special event at the Arts Council today. He was awarded his Laureate’s ‘medal’ by Minister Fergus O’Dowd who said Eoin was a ‘magical’ writer who would open up the minds of young people over all the world in his new role.

Laureate na nÓg is an initiative of the Arts Council with the support of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Children’s Books Ireland, Poetry Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. The honour was established to engage young people with high quality children’s literature and to underline the importance of children’s literature in our cultural and imaginative lives.

Eoin Colfer was born in Wexford in 1965. Having qualified as a primary school teacher, he worked in Wexford before travelling and working in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Italy. His first book, Benny and Omar, was published in 1998, based on his experiences in Tunisia; it has since been translated into many languages.

He attained worldwide recognition in 2001, when the first Artemis Fowl book was published and became a New York Times bestseller. His latest novel, Warp: The Reluctant Assassin has been nominated for the CBI Book of the Year 2014. He currently lives in Wexford, Ireland with his wife, Jackie, and two children, Séan and Finn.

Speaking about his appointment as Laureate na nÓg, Eoin Colfer said: ‘I feel incredibly honoured and incredibly petrified to be taking on the Laureate mantle after Niamh (Sharkey) and Siobhan (Parkinson). I feel I am representing my family and my county and indeed all book people in Ireland which is not something I mean to take lightly. I intend to spend my time spreading stories to every nook and cranny in the country. Nobody is safe. It doesn’t matter where you hide – I will find you and tell you a story.’

At the announcement he quipped that the Laureate medal gives him special powers. ‘All writers have to do what I say,’ he said. ‘Sarah and Niamh have to swap (the type of books they write) and John and Derek have to swap . . . I look forward to reading John Boyne’s new Skulduggery Pleasant book in the future.’ He also added ‘This is the proudest moment of my professional life.’

Elaina Ryan, Director of Children’s Books Ireland said: ‘Laureate na nÓg stands for so many things: honouring the talent of Ireland’s extraordinary writers and illustrators; celebrating children’s literature and recognising its crucial place in the lives of children; and bringing people together in Ireland and internationally to talk about children’s books and the possibilities they represent. Children’s Books Ireland is thrilled that Eoin Colfer will be Ireland’s third Laureate na nÓg – his imagination, energy and accessibility to so many audiences are among the many attributes that will make Eoin a wonderful Laureate.’

Sheila Pratschke, Chair of the Arts Council, said: ‘The Arts Council is delighted to award this honour – the highest to be awarded to a children’s writer or illustrator in Ireland – to an artist of such high achievement and with such generosity of spirit.’ And Nóirín McKinney, Director of Arts Development at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland added her support for the new Laureate: ‘Following in the trail-blazing footsteps of Siobhan Parkinson and Niamh Sharkey, Eoin Colfer is an inspired choice for the third all-island Children’s Laureate.’

Spotted at the announcement: the team from Penguin Ireland; Eoin’s agent, Sophie Hicks; children’s book commentator, Robert Dunbar; Director of Children’s Books Ireland, Elaina O’Neill; RTE’s David Murphy; and columnist and writer, Martina Devlin.

If you’d like to invite Eoin to your festival or event, the Laureate na nÓg team will be inviting invitations during the month of June from arts organisations and groups to suggest projects for the new Laureate. See www.childrenslaureate.ie for details. A great opportunity to hear from an amazing writer.

I would like to congratulate Eoin on his appointment and I look forward to the next two years of his reign! Long live Laureate Eoin!

Sarah Webb is a writer and children’s book commentator. She is the Children’s Curator of the Mountains to Sea Book Festival.