Oliver Jeffers

Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year Awards 2018

The 2018 Children’s Books Ireland Award is given to books published in 2017. There were some outstanding titles last year for all ages, from Rabbit and Bear for young readers of five plus (Julian McGough and Jim Field), to Sarah Crossan’s searing YA novel in verse, Moonlight.

Every year I predict the titles that will be on the shortlist and the overall winner. This year I have a book in the mix, A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea, illustrated by the hugely talented Steve McCarthy. Obviously I’d love it to be shortlisted. I believe Steve’s illustrations are outstanding and if it is shortlisted we will both be over the moon. Let's wait and see!

The shortlist will be announced on the 12th March and the awards are on 23rd March (tbc).

So here goes – my predictions for the CBI Awards 2018:


the presidents glasses.jpg

1/ The President’s Glasses by Peter Donnolly 

A wonderfully funny tale about what happens when the president of Ireland forgets his glasses. Striking illustrations in luscious colour.

2/ Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers

A heartfelt ode to the world for his new baby son. Glorious illustrations in a more painterly style. A treat for the eye.


Early Readers

3/ Rabbit and Bear: The Pest in the Nest by Julian Gough, illustrated by Jim Field

I am a huge fan of Rabbit and Bear – what brilliant characters. Funny and thoughtful, a super book for reading aloud. 

Age 9+

4/ Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano

Moving graphic novel about two refugee brothers who are making their way from North Africa to Europe by boat. Not to be missed.

5/ Hopscotch in the Sky by Lucinda Jacobs, illustrated by Lauren O’Neill

Moving and thought-provoking poems for children about subjects that fascinate children. A brilliant collection from one of our most important children’s poets. (Disclaimer – I worked with Lucinda at the early stages of this book.)

Age 12+

6/ Pavee and the Buffer Girl by Siobhan Down, illustrated by Emma Shoard

Graphic novel about a traveller girl. Siobhan write it before she died and her writing as always is lyrical and powerful.

7/ A Dangerous Crossing by Jane Mitchell                      POSSIBLE OVERALL WINNER

Excellent novel about a refugee boy from Kobani, Syria. Strong and powerful.

8/ Star by Star by Sheena Wilkinson

Suffragette tale by one of our most talented writers.


9/ Moonrise by Sarah Crossan                  POSSIBLE OVERALL WINNER

Powerful novel in verse about death row that deserves to be read.

10/ The Space Between by Meg Grehan

Debut novel in verse about an Irish teenager with mental health problems. Brave and moving.

11/ Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan

Lyrical, sinuous writing make these feminist retellings of fairy tales leap off the page. Not to be missed.

Other outstanding books from 2017 that might make the shortlist

Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy

Claire is an outstanding YA writer and this book about gender politics and identity pulls you in from the first page.

The Girl in Between by Sarah Carroll

Debut about a homeless girl and her mother from a writer to watch.

Stand by Me by Judi Curtin

Judi’s books are beautifully written and are much loved by readers. This one goes back time to the 1960s.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark: The Forever Court by Dave Rudden

Brilliant fantasy adventure with heart.

The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue

A tale of a family with two dads, two moms and seven children.

Good luck everyone!

What Publishers Want - Picturebooks

Image by Alan O'Rourke

Image by Alan O'Rourke

Today I hosted a day in the dlr Lexicon Library all about picturebooks. It was the second in a series of events focused on different areas of writing for children and teenagers, called When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? Or #ProperBook for short. The events were held in association with the wonderful Children's Books Ireland and this one also had the support of IBBY Ireland

Here is a roundup of the day. Thanks to all the speakers and to everyone who attended. The next #properbook day will focus on writing fiction for children and teenagers and will be held next spring.

Thanks to CBI and various attendees for the photos and Alan O'Rourke for his great #properbook graphic above.

First Valerie Coughlan and Lucinda Jacob talked about the visual narrative in picturebooks (how the pictures help tell the story), and rhyming versus prose picture books. Both agreed that all picturebooks need rhythm but not necessarily rhyme. Valerie quoted American picturebook critic Barbara Bader who said:

As an art form it [the picturebook] hinges on the interdependence of pictures and words, on the simultaneous display of two facing pages, and on the drama of the turning of the page.
On its own terms its possibilities are limitless.

Valerie shared some of her favourite picturebooks including Rosie's Walk and Where the Wild Things Are and recommended Illustrating  Children's Books by Martin Salisbury (see full book list below for details). 

Lucinda spoke about rhyming picturebooks and explained that the rhyme had to form a pattern, like a song. Her favourite picturebooks include Hairy Maclary and Each Peach, Pear Plum. 

Next up was our illustrators' panel: Michael Emberley, Mary Murphy and Chris Judge. They talked about the genesis of an idea, which was largely different for each book. Michael gets an idea first, then works on that idea, for Chris and Mary the character comes first. Once they have a character, they start working on the story.

They had some great advice for new writers:

Research - read modern picturebooks. Mary explained how important this is. She talked about her work, which mainly focuses on young children and has deceptively simple text and vibrant, beautifully designed artwork. 


Be yourself. Michael spoke with passion about being yourself on the page and not trying to be someone that you are not. He explained how publishers were pushing the costs (of producing a picturebook) 'downstream' towards the author. He said that these days you need to make your book as good as possible before sending it off to a publisher. The days of sending off an 'idea' or a rough, unfinished text are gone. (Interestingly on a later panel, Deirdre McDermott from Walker said she doesn't like to see artwork that is too finished, as there is no space for it to change and grow - see below for more from Deirdre.)

Chris talked about not giving up (it took him several years to get his first picturebook published). He also said to take your time and to produce something you are proud of - don't be in a rush to get published. 'It takes a long time to make a great book,' he said. 

The image below is of his Beast character. 

Jane O'Hanlon and Debbie  Thomas from IBBY spoke about their Silent Books exhibition which is in the Lexicon library until the 29th May. A matching set of the books are on the Italian island of Lampedusa where refugees from Africa and the Middle East often land on their way to Europe. The books are shared with the refugee children. Teachers and students from St Laurence College spoke about their recent trip to the island, which was a lovely addition to the day. It made me think about the importance of picturebooks as a form of communication as well as an art form. 

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick gave us a brilliant insight into the work of a picturebook maker, showing lots of her rough sketches, dummy books and even the colour chart she created for Owl Bat Bat Owl, her latest picturebook.

Marie-Louise shared her tips on one clever slide

Marie-Louise shared her tips on one clever slide

So - the burning question - what are publishers looking for when it comes to picturebooks? Deirdre McDermott from Walker Books is interested in working with new Irish illustrators. She loves warm graphics - she mentioned Lucy Cousins and Mary Murphy in this regard. 'I want to feel the blood in their (the artists') veins. I want to feel they have a heartbeat.' She loves Chris Haughton's work for its sense of humour and she loves his brilliant use of colour.

Interestingly she's not looking for highly polished, finished work. She's looking for something different and exciting, and often finds her illustrators in unusual ways, not always though an agent. 

For picturebook texts Deirdre said she's looking for something that instantly grabs her attention: 'You read the first four sentences and it just gets you.' 

Emma Byrne from O'Brien Press is looking for Irish content and Irish creators. She says Ireland is a small market and she makes an effort to give Irish illustrators a chance. Like Deirdre, she doesn't use agents to find illustrators (although some do come this way). She looks at magazines - she mentioned Totally Dublin - flyers and posters for images that make her react. She's also looking for a sense of humour in the work and is drawn to unusual colour.

Tadhg MacDhonnagáin from Futa Fata is looking for narrative picturebooks for age 3 to 6. He's looking for books that are not based in Ireland but that have a strong story, with a main character that goes on a journey and changes. He's looking again for humour and for a writer with great enthusiasm. He would love to find an illustrator or picturebook maker who can speak Irish and can do events in schools and at festivals, but has yet to discover one

Margaret Anne Suggs from Illustrators Ireland gave this advice:

1/ Have something worth submitting.

2/ Do your research - look at what the publisher or agent likes and see if you are a fit.

3/ Follow the submission guidelines carefully.

And the publishers' pet hates? Letters addressed 'Dear Sir' (to Emma or Deirdre). 

Elaborate packages of artwork with no return address.

Rhyming picturebooks with no story. 

Margaret Anne said that illustrators are often told to write their own text. She described this as being bisexual. 'It doubles your chance of a date,' she said. 

Other information shared was:

Writers and illustrators rarely meet.

If you are a writer you do not need to find an illustrator. You submit your text without pictures. The editor will match your story with the right illustrator. Do not provide illustrations yourself (unless you are also an artist) or pay someone to illustrate your book. 

Don't put grown ups in your book if you can help it.

If you are an illustrator, apply to Illustrators Ireland who can help you with contracts and professional advice. 

Always get a contract if you are an illustrator and ask for royalties, not just a set fee (esp for picturebooks). 

Walker split the writer/illustrator royalty 50/50.

Illustrators' agents take 25 to 35% of a contract and literary agents 15 to 20% (for writers or illustrators).

It was a really enjoyable, informative day and thanks to all the speakers, to Marian Keyes at the library and Artscope for their help. 

Watch out for the podcast of the day which I'll post here soon. 

I'll leave you with this list of recommended books about writing and illustrating picturebooks which I put together for the event. 

Books about Writing and Illustrating Picturebooks

Recommended by Sarah Webb

riting Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul – especially good on how to write a rhyming picturebook and how to check your rhythm and rhyme. Highly recommended.

Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books by Uri Shulevitz – excellent book, well worth reading. Especially good on format.

Illustrating Children’s Books by Martin Salisbury – a must have for illustrators. Full colour hardback with lots about technique.

Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles – excellent book about the history of picturebooks, publishing, process + much more. Highly recommended.

100 Great Children’s Picture Books by Martin Salisbury – a gem – treat yourself!

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book by Andrea Shavick – a good beginner’s guide to writing picturebooks.

Writing Children’s Books for Dummies by Lisa Rojany Buccieri – don’t let the title put you off, this is a useful, sensible book. Especially good on the different age groups and genres.

Sarah Webb mentors new and emerging writers and critiques picturebooks and novels for children. Contact me for details about how to book (now taking bookings for Sept)


Sarah Webb's Top 3 Tips - Writing Picturebooks

1/ Picturebooks are generally short – around 500 words – and are made up of 12 double page spreads. Make every word count and work on the text until it shines.

2/ You do not need to provide artwork. Concentrate on the text, don’t worry about illustrations. An editor’s job is to match text with the right artwork and they are gifted picturebook matchmakers.

3/ Read award winning and best-selling picturbooks. Study Julia Donaldson’s poetry – and it is poetry – every line is carefully worked out. Just because you can rhyme sat with hat doesn’t mean you can write a rhyming picturebook. The whole line has to sing. More about this in another blog soon.

Read Maurice Sendak. Read some of the best Irish picturebook talent: Yasmeen Ismail, Oliver Jeffers and Chris Haughton.

Coo over Helen Oxenbury’s babies and Mem Fox’s outstanding text in the modern classic, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes.

Learn from the greats – and then get back to your own work.

Work at it and keep working at it until you crack it. Don’t give up!

I’ve been teaching creative writing for over 20 years now. Good writers with tenacity and grit, writers who are prepared to work hard at their craft, they are the ones who get published. Good luck!

Yours in writing, Sarah X

A Girl Made of Books by Sarah Webb

I’m a big fan of Oliver Jeffers who is a Northern Irish designer, artist, writer and illustrator who is best known for his picture books. My favourite is an early book called Lost and Found about a boy and a lost penguin who become friends. His new book is called A Child of Books and it’s out in September. Written and illustrated by both Sam Winston and Oliver, it’s an ode to childhood books.

A Child Made of Books
A Child Made of Books

A Child of Books

Here’s the trailer, do check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3_qoMY7mf8

 Inspired by this book, I thought I’d list some of the books that made ME:

busy busy world
busy busy world

1/ Richard Scarry’s Busy Busy World

I loved this book and used to pour over the details in the pictures. It’s full of funny stories set all over the world, from Italy to Ireland, and I loved it so much I used to sleep with it under my pillow.

2/ Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Image from the Ballet Shoes Television Movie Starring Emma Watson
Image from the Ballet Shoes Television Movie Starring Emma Watson

Image from the Ballet Shoes Television Movie Starring Emma Watson

I took ballet classes for years and always dreamed of one day being a ballerina. It was not to be, but reading about ballet and watching ballet is the next best thing. I even wrote about ballet in Ask Amy Green: Dancing Daze.


3/ Heidi by Johanna Spyri

How I wanted to live in the Swiss Alps with a kind grandfather after this story was read to me. It’s such a wonderful tale, of friendship, overcoming hardship and being yourself.

4/ Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery

Anne from Anne of Green Gables
Anne from Anne of Green Gables

Anne from Anne of Green Gables

I’ve always admired Anne ‘with an e’ – she’s one of my favourite characters of all time. I like to think we’d be kindred spirits if we ever met. She has such a fun, feisty and true nature. This book left a lasting impression on me as a young reader.

5/ Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

I re-read this every year to remind myself what it feels like to be thirteen. It’s over 40 years old now but is still as fresh and funny as the day it was published. I first read it as a teenager, adored her honesty and humour, and Judy has been one of my favourite writers ever since.

6/ The O’Sullivan Twins by Enid Blyton

And pretty much all Enid Blyton’s books! I read my through them and adored their ‘Englishness’.

7/ New Patches for Old by Christobel Mattingley

New Patches for Old
New Patches for Old

New Patches for Old

This book was a real eye opener and I’ve never forgotten it. Patricia or ‘Patches’ is an English girl who has moved to Australia with her family. She has to deal with making new friends, adapting to a new life and growing up. Her new life isn’t always easy, but she deals with everything that is thrown at her with good humour and honesty. I was about twelve when I read this book and it was the first time I’d come across a girl getting her period for the first time in any book – and I was so grateful that someone had written about this (I was anxious about the whole thing, as many teens were in those days as it wasn’t talked about much – things are a lot more open now, thank goodness), a subject that is also dealt with in Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

Both these books inspired me to write Ask Amy Green: Summer Secrets. Amy gets her period during her summer holidays and rings her aunt, Clover (who is 17 and also her great friend) to ask for advice.

Often people say there were no teenage books in the 1970s but there were - including this one. I’m so glad I read it, it really did make a difference to my life.

These are some of the books that made me. What books made YOU? I’d love to know!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on Girls Hearts Books website.

Picture Books: To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme?

Some of My Picture Book Collection
Some of My Picture Book Collection

I was doing some intense thinking about picture books last night. My writing class asked me why I'm not keen on rhyming picture books and I didn't have a coherent answer for them. But I do now!

When I got home I read dozens of rhyming and non rhyming pictures books. Every month I am sent review copies of all the new titles (and proofs or early reading copies) by the various Irish and UK publishers, and I read ALL the picture books and as many of the novels as I can. So I get a great overview of what's going on in the world of children's books. (Aside - when I was the children's book buyer at Waterstone's and then Eason's I saw the covers and titles of up to 8k children's books a year. Booksellers are a font of knowledge when it comes to children's books, trends, titles, covers etc. I'm proud to say I still work with booksellers, as a consultant with Dubray Books.)

So what conclusion did I come to after my late night read? A large number of rhyming picture books are all about concept (love, ABC, 123, colour) and it's hard to get emotion and conflict into even the best of them.Yes, yes I know Julia Donaldson manages to pack her books with emotion (and others do too - Madeline, Millions of Cats, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes etc) but she is one in a million. Non-rhyming picture books are all about story, character and emotion.

Spread from Owl Babies
Spread from Owl Babies
monster mamma
monster mamma

I like books that squeeze my heart, books full of emotion and power. Owl Babies, Where the Wild Things Are, Lost and Found, The Heart and the Bottle, Monster Mama (see below for details).

I hate insipid, badly rhyming picture books about loving your mummy (who is also a teddy dressed in human clothing). Managing to make the last words on each line rhyme does not magically turn a writer into a poet. The whole line has to sing.

And for the record here are my all time top 10 favourite picture books (not the best books, or the ones that have won the most awards, the ones I love the most). Books I could not live without:

1/ Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

Is there a better picture book?

2/ Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson

Love it - and it has my name in it!

3/ Lost and Found - Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers
Oliver Jeffers

Oliver is exceptional. One of the greatest picture book talents Ireland has ever produced.

4/ Busy Busy World - Richard Scarry

My childhood is embedded in this book.

5/ The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont, illustrated by Raymond Briggs

Loved it as a child, love it now.

6/ The Red Tree -  Shaun Tan

From The Red Tree
From The Red Tree

The illustrations make me shiver, they're so good. I also love Rules of Summer. All his work in fact.

7/ Monster Mama by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

Incredible book about a mother and her son, bullying and the power of love.

8/ Alfie Gets in First - Shirley Hughes

Best writer for toddlers ever. Her domestic scenes sing with love.

9/ Peter's Chair - Ezra Jack Keats

Exceptional picture book from 1967 about sibling rivalry. I was read it first when my sister was born and it's stayed with me all that time.

10/ Fighting it out for the last slot - I can't choose. There so many amazing picture book makers. Jon Klassen is my pick for today. I Want My Hat Back. But I also adore Dr Suess (who doesn't?), although may of his books are more illustrated books than picture books (maybe Richard Scarry's too?). A topic for another day. And for pure illustration, Lizbeth Zwerger all the way. Journey by Aaron Becker is pretty special too (wordless picture book). So many pretty books ...

A Spread from Journey
A Spread from Journey

Better get back to the writing! I'll leave you with this: award winning picture book maker, Marie Louise Fitzpatrick talking a lot of sense about picture books that rhyme:

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Picture This! Why I Love Picture Books (and Shaun Tan)

If I say ‘picture books’ what do you think of? Stories about bears who can’t sleep and hares who love each other ‘to the moon and back’? Books about caterpillars turning into butterflies, and families going on bear hunts? Books for young children in other words. Most people think children ‘grow out’ of picture books, that they are too simple for children who can read. Well, I’m in my 40s and I still adore picture books. I read them with my children yes, (age 11 and 8) but I also read them for myself. Some of the greatest art out there is sandwiched between the covers of picture books, plus they’re beautifully written, with not a word out of place. Haiku for aliens someone once described them as, and they were right.

I’ve always loved art and as a child I was lucky to have a dad who brought me to art galleries. After school I went on to study History of Art (with English) at Trinity College, Dublin, where I spent hours in the library pouring over the pages of the glossy art books. I also studied picture books – I was obsessed with Maurice Sendak (and still am). I’d like to share some of my favourite picture books with you and explain why I love them so much.

1/ Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

A Spread from Where the Wild Things Are
A Spread from Where the Wild Things Are

A Spread from Where the Wild Things Are

One of the most famous picture books of all. Originally published in 1963, at the time adults thought it a disturbing book. They thought the monsters would terrify children. But they underestimated youngsters, who recognised (and still recognise) the humour and mischief in the beasts. I bought  a hardback copy of this book for my son, Sam, when he was born. I was a children’s bookseller in Waterstone’s  and I loved reading this one aloud at story time. It’s so beautifully written, the words just flow off the page.  It really has stood the test of time and the artwork still looks fresh and original 50 years on. A true classic.

Monster Mama cover
Monster Mama cover

2/ Monster Mama by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

An Interior from Monster Mama
An Interior from Monster Mama

An Interior from Monster Mama

I was a single mum for many years and I loved curling up and reading picture books with my son. This one is all about a mum who is a ‘monster’ and fights off the bullies who threaten her son. It’s about maternal love and the illustrations are highly coloured and very unusual.  It’s a book full of powerful emotion and reading it always reminds me how strongly I felt and still feel about my son (who is now 20!).


3/ The Red Tree by Shaun Tan

An Interior from The Red Tree
An Interior from The Red Tree

An Interior from The Red Tree

The Last Page of The Red Tree
The Last Page of The Red Tree

The Last Page of The Red Tree

I’m a huge fan of Shaun Tan’s work. He’s an extraordinary writer and visionary artist and I urge you to seek him out. His books are for all ages, especially The Arrival, which is more graphic novel than picture book. But my favourite is his ode to hope and renewal, The Red Tree. It’s a simple story about a girl with red hair who is having a rough time. On each page there’s a tiny red leaf, and at the end of the book, the leaves have become a bright, shining tree. The text is beautifully written but it’s the illustrations that really blow you away. Everyone has days (or weeks or even months) where they feel tired and down and lonely, and I find this book – and its message of hope and its inspirational artwork – so reassuring. Nothing ever seems as bad after reading it. His latest book, Rules of Summer is also pretty special.

Here’s some of the text of The Red Tree: ‘Sometimes the day beings with nothing to look forward to

And things go from bad to worse/Darkness over comes you/Nobody understands . . .

But suddenly there it is

Right in front of you/bright and vivid

Quietly waiting/just as you imagined it would be.’

More of Shaun Tan's Work
More of Shaun Tan's Work

More of Shaun Tan's Work

Shaun Tan's Latest Book
Shaun Tan's Latest Book

Shaun Tan's Latest Book

owl babies
owl babies
marshall arm
marshall arm
lost and found
lost and found

To find out more about  Shaun's work see: www.shauntan.net  I also love Owl Babies by Martin Waddell (as it has 3 little owls – and my children used to re-name the owls with their own names and the dark, atmospheric artwork by Patrick Benson is superb); Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School by David Mackintosh (a book celebrating difference with stunning illustrations); and Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers (which has a strong friendship theme and the most wonderful rowing boat illustration – there’s a whale gliding underneath it). And I also adore the work of Lizbeth Zwerger for her quirky imagination and her use of colour + line.

The Work of Lizbeth Zwerger
The Work of Lizbeth Zwerger

The Work of Lizbeth Zwerger

What’s your favourite picture book and why? I’d love to know.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog post first appeared on the Girls Heart Books blog: www.girlsheartbooks.com

The Kids are All Write - the Irish Children's Book World

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Divergent - the movie

Sarah Webb – Published 18 May 2014 in the Sunday Independent

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THERE has been a lot of doom and gloom about the state of the Irish book trade in the press recently. Happily, however, children's books are holding their own and now account for up to 25 per cent of overall book sales, a figure which is increasing year on year.

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Irish writers are in great demand internationally, and rising star of the Irish children's publishing world David Maybury has just been appointed to the important post of Commissioning Editor of Scholastic Children's Books, UK.

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Watching Back to the Future with my children last week, I was amused to see the flying cars and insane clothes predicted to be all the rage in 2015. Books were also a thing of the past, with all children reading electronically. Many thought this would indeed be the case, that children would be the first to switch over to e-readers. However, we underestimated children's love of physical books.

The supremely talented Eoin Colfer, who was inaugurated as Children's Laureate na nOg last week, put it perfectly when he said: "Every 50 years something comes along and people say 'That's the end of books'. We'll have to adapt, but physical books will definitely endure... Books will never die."

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"Books are tactile," he told me. "You can hug a book. You can sit down with your dad or mum and read a book together. Books are a badge of honour. A way to be identified. What is on your shelf says a lot about you. I had The Lord of the Rings and all my Batman comics (on my shelves). If anyone came into my room they knew who I was."

Colfer is right – books define who children and teenagers are. My own daughter is an avid fantasy reader and her shelves are crammed with Skulduggery Pleasant and Manga books. She has never expressed an interest for an electronic reader. Many of her friends own them and use them only when travelling. The statistics are there to prove that children love physical books: less than eight per cent of children's books are read electronically.

"Only four per cent of our children's book sales are electronic sales," says Ivan O'Brien, MD of O'Brien Press. "There's still a huge appetite for good, strong children's titles and potential for books to break out." O'Brien has had great success with its translation sales and has sold books by Irish authors like Judi Curtin and Marita Conlon-McKenna into many different territories.

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Books for our younger readers now account for 22-25 per cent of the overall book market, according to David O'Callaghan, Children's Book Buyer at Eason. "They've really entered the mainstream," he says.

"The big trends for us at the moment are Minecraft and Divergent. I think reality based YA (young adult) novels like John Green's The Fault in Our Stars are definitely going to be the next big thing. And the new Irish writers coming through the ranks, like Shane Hegarty are worth watching."

The spotlight was on Hegarty recently when the news of his "substantial six figure deal" hit the headlines. Darkmouth, his first book for children with HarperCollins, will be published next year.

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Last month, 26-year-old Cavan man Dave Rudden signed a deal with Puffin for his YA fantasy adventure trilogy, The Borrowed Dark, due in 2016; and journalist Darragh McManus's debut YA novel, Shiver the Whole Night Through, will be published by Hot Key Books in November.

And it won't just be little people reading their work. Adults are reading YA and crossover books like never before, and many authors are reaching rock star status.

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US writer John Green filled the RDS last year with more than 800 screaming fans. Who says teenagers don't read? Titles like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, the Harry Potter books, Twilight, The Hunger Games and most recently, the Divergent series are openly read by adults on the DART, and discussed at book clubs.

Colfer is an inspired choice for the third Children's Laureate. A brilliantly funny speaker, his love of words is infectious. He says, "I want to tell a story to every child in Ireland." He has exciting plans to put together a show based around stories and books and to tour it internationally.

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"Ireland's history is story," he says. "We've always been a nation of storytellers. It's in our blood."

Previous Laureates Siobhan Parkinson and Niamh Sharkey are tough acts to follow. Parkinson set up a Laureate Library which still travels the country, introducing books from all over the world to Irish children.

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Niamh curated the Pictiur exhibition, work from 21 Irish illustrators which has travelled to Bologna and Brussels and was recently seen by more than 45,000 people at IMMA. You can catch it in Lismore Castle Arts, Waterford, in September, the Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, in October and finally in the new Library and Cultural Centre in Dun Laoghaire at the end of the year.

Children's Books Ireland is also behind the prestigious Children's Books Ireland Award (previously the Bisto Award), which was announced last Tuesday. The overall winner of this year's Award was Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick for Hagwitch, a novel about theatre, puppets and magic, set partly in 16th-Century London. Oliver Jeffers won the Children's Choice Award for The Day the Crayons Quit; and Honour Awards went to Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, P J Lynch and Paula Leyden.

The next big event on the calender is the Children Books Ireland Conference, where our newly minted Laureate will be joined by fashion illustrator and milliner turned book guru David Roberts (Dirty Bertie), spoken word darling and best friend of Adele (yes, that Adele), Laura Dockrill, and US picture book maker, Leslie Patricelli.

Taking place at the cool Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield, Dublin, next Saturday and Sunday, it's a must for anyone who wants to find out more about children's books.

For further info about the world of children's books visit www.childrensbooksireland.ie

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

Oliver Jeffers and Eoin Colfer - Together!

Oliver Jeffers
Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers

Exciting news from Bologna - 2 of my favourite children's book talents, together in one book! Here's what Harper Collins say:



HarperCollins UK & US have joined forces to acquire Imaginary Fred, an extraordinary collaboration from Irish dream team Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers. A World Rights deal was concluded by Rachel Denwood Publishing and Creative Director at s Books UK, alongside Kate Jackson, Senior Vice President, Associate Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief, and Nancy Inteli, Editorial Director, HarperCollins US with Sophie Hicks at Ed Victor Ltd. Oliver Jeffers is represented by Paul Moreton at Bell Lomax Moreton. Imaginary Fred is a unique take on the concept of imaginary friends. It’s the story of two little boys and their shared love of movies, music and comic books. It is about how a little bit of electricity, a little bit of luck, and a little bit of magic can spark a friendship like no other… The perfect chemistry between Eoin Colfer’s text and Oliver Jeffer’s artwork will make for a dazzlingly original colour gift book. The launch date for Imaginary Fred is set for Autumn 2015, with HarperCollins publishing simultaneously in the US. There will be two formats on launch, a hardback aimed at the picture book audience and a special small format hardback for the wider gifting market. A major global marketing and PR campaign will support these spectacular publications. HarperCollins Children’s Books has published Oliver Jeffers since the launch of his 2004 debut, the award winning and bestselling How To Catch A Star. Celebrations for the 10th anniversary of How to Catch a Star will kick off at the Bologna Book Fair this week. Internationally bestselling Eoin Colfer is welcomed to the HarperCollins list for the first time.

Rachel Denwood said “An Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers collaboration is pretty much the stuff of dreams – they are simply two of the finest children’s book creators on the planet. Imaginary Fred is a complete one-off – it’s funny, poignant, original. It’s genius.” Kate Jackson added “We’re thrilled to help bring to life Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers’s IMAGINARY FRED, a story that’s sure to become an instant children’s classic, with its unforgettable characters and clever storytelling. It’s filled with hilarity and heart, and we knew right away we wanted this dream team on our list.”

Eoin Colfer is the internationally bestselling author of the Artemis Fowl series as well as several standalone novels including the highly acclaimed Airman. His newest series is W.A.R.P. Eoin was born and raised in Wexford in the south-east of Ireland, where he now lives. Oliver Jeffers is an outstanding talent and has won many high-profile awards, including the Nestle Children’s Book Prize Gold Award, the Blue Peter Book of the Year and the Irish Children’s Book of the Year.

(Information from the Harper Collins Press Release)

CBI Book of the Year Awards 2014 - Predictions


It's that time of the year once more. The Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year Awards shortlist will be announced on 18th March and the final Awards will be announced on 13th May.

Last year's winner was Sheena Wilkinson for Grounded, which also won the Children's Choice Award. Who will win this year? Here are my predictions (there are usually 10 books on the shortlist, including 1 or 2 Irish language books - I have left these off as I haven't read them yet):

1/ Overall Book of the Year Award: Back to Blackbrick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

2/ Eilis Dillon Award for First Book: Back to Blackbrick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Which Irish book from 2013 have I thought about and remembered more than any other book? The answer is Back to Blackbrick. A gripping novel about Cosmo and his grandfather who has Alzheimer's, it's a touching, cleverly plotted time shift novel that deserves the overall Award AND the Eilis Dillon. No, it's not perfect, there are a few plot problems and there is one particular scene that just does not work (I won't spoil the book for you), but it's written with such conviction and such heart, that you overlook these small things. An exciting new talent.

3/ Honour Award for Illustration: Oliver Jeffers for The Day the Crayons Quit

What can I say? It's Oliver and it's perfect. Could win the overall prize as the illustrations are legendary.

4/ Honour Award for Fiction: The Maleficent Seven by Derek Landy

If Derek doesn't win an award for this wonderful book, there is no justice. It's beautifully plotted, full of larger than life characters and crackles with tension and wit. Yes, it's funny, but funny is very hard to pull off. Give him an award, please!

5/ Judge's Special Award: Pandamonium at Peek Zoo by Kevin Waldron

Waldron is simply brilliant. His muted, retro illustrations are a joy to look at.

Shortlisted Titles:

6/ The Sleeping Baobab Tree by Paula Leyden

Another magical African adventure from this talented writer.

7/ Tall Tales from Pitch End by Nigel McDowell

Published by Hot Key, this debut is one to watch. Could be a surprise shortlist contender.

8/ Death and Co by D J McCune

Another impressive debut for older readers of 12+ featuring spirit guides and lots of dark doings. Atmospheric and memorable.

9/ Heart Shaped by Siobhan Parkinson

Sharp, moving and funny, this is Parkinson at her best.

10/ Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne

A wonderful World War I novel that had me in tears.

10/ Improper Order by Deirdre Sullivan

Even better than the first book. Funny, sweet and quirky. Primrose rules!

Also shortlisted could be:

Rebecca Rocks by Anna Carey

Yes, it's funny, but it's also beautifully written and a timely look at teens, peer pressure and sexuality. An important book by an author to watch. Deserves to be on the shortlist, but as it's such a charming, easy read, it may not be. Ditto, Judi Curtin, Oisin McGann and Derek Landy. However as Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, 'Easy reading is damn hard writing.'

Ratrunners by Oisin McGann - Gripping dystopian thriller. About time McGann is credited for his stellar and wide ranging work.

The Brave Beast by Chris Judge - Strong illustrations and a sweet story make this a real contender.

Little Owl's Orange Scarf by Tatyana Feeney - Wonderful design and illustrations.

Sanding in for Lincoln Green by David Mackintosh - I have a huge soft spot for Mackintosh's work - it's so original.

Also: The Trials of Oland Born: Curse of Kings by Alex Barclay and The Keeper by Darragh Martin - 2 strong debut fantasy novels; The Milo Adventures by Mary Arrigan; Eva and the Hidden Diary by Judi Curtin; Too Many Ponies by Sheena Wilkinson; Missing Ellen by Natasha Mac A'Bhaird and Wormwood Gate by Katherine Farmer; WARP by Eoin Colfer; Hagwitch by Marie Louise Fitzpatrick and finally, Storm Clouds by Brian Gallagher.

What was your favourite book of the year? I'd love to know.

Yours in books,


PS Although I am on the Board of CBI, these opinions are my own.

The Best Children's Books 2013 - by Sarah Webb

Share a Book This Christmas
Share a Book This Christmas
From The Dark
From The Dark

I've worked as a children's bookseller, writer and commentator for over twenty years now, and during that time I've been privileged to read over four hundred children's books a year. Every Christmas I do a round up of some of my favourite titles of the year for The Irish Independent. This post is a new version (with extra titles) of that article. And I'd like to thank John Spain at the paper for supporting children's books.I believe that children's books matter. I believe that the right book at the right time can change a child's life. Books help children navigate the world. They engage their imaginations. They help them walk in other children's shoes. The characters children meet in books become friends for ever.

By giving a child a book this Christmas, you are giving them a gift for life. I hope this round up helps you find some new books for the children and teenagers in your life. And who knows, you might even enjoy them too!

 Picture Books (Age 2/3+)


My picture book of the year is The Day the Crayons Quit, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by the unstoppable Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins, £12.99). When Duncan goes to take out his crayons he finds a bundle of letters instead – letters to him from each colour. They are not happy – Orange complains that he is the real colour of the sun, not Yellow; Beige is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown. A clever, inventive story illustrated with charm and wit by Jeffers, with the help of some of his young friends, using all the crayons in the pack. A brilliant book for sharing.


I also loved Aunt Amelia by Rebecca Cobb (Macmillan, £10.99), a charming tale about a very special aunt, with wonderfully expressive mixed media illustrations; and That is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems (Walker, £11.99) which pits a dastardly fox against a wide-eyed goose and is illustrated in show-stopping cartoon style, with a nod to silent movies. I must also mention the reissue of the much-loved The Sleeping Giant by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (Wolfhound, e9.99); and Oscar Wilde’s Stories for Children (O’Brien Press, e14.99) a new edition featuring Charles Robinson’s stunning watercolour and line drawings and beautifully designed by Emma Byrne.

Look out too for Chris Judge’s new Beast book, The Brave Beast, a clever tale with wonderful illustrations and design; and The Dark, written by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by the amazing American artist, Jon Klassen. The brilliantly surreal images by a masterful artist make this book something very special.

 Younger Readers (Age 6/7+)

fortunately the milk
fortunately the milk

This year has seen the resurgence of illustrated books such as my favourite for younger readers of six plus, Fortunately, the Milk . . . by the amazing Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury, £10.99). Mum’s away, Dad’s in charge and there’s no milk – so off he goes to find some, stumbling into all kinds of trouble along the way. There are pirates, aliens, volcano gods and all manner of crazy escapades in this hilarious book. The pen and ink illustrations by Chris Riddell are genius, and watch out for Gaiman himself in a cameo role as ‘Dad’.

Chris Riddell’s own book, Goth Girl (Macmillan, £9.99) is also brilliant for sharing. Ada Goth lives in Ghastly-Gorm Hall with her father, Lord Goth. With lots of clever literary references for parents, this makes a perfect read aloud; and Oliver and the Seawigs (Oxford, £8.99) by the magnificent Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre, is an eccentric adventure story with equally whacky illustrations. (Both age 6+)

Alex T Smith's Claude on the Slopes (Hodder, £4.99) sees Claude (a dog) and his best friend, Sir Bobblysock on the slopes. When an avalanche-shaped disaster strikes, will Claude save the day? Funny, easy to read text and brilliantly stylish illustrations make this one a real winner.

In Milo and One Dead Angry Druid by Mary Arrigan (O’Brien, e7.99) can best buddies, Milo and Shane outwit the dead druid before midnight strikes? Arrigan is an experienced writer for this age group and it shows in her pitch perfect text and her short, snappy chapters. Kevin Stevens’ The Powers (Little Island, e7.99) are not-so-super superheroes who go on holiday to Baltimore. Great cartoon-style illustrations by Sheena Dempsey. (Both age 7+)

Confident Readers (Age 9+)

My favourite novel of the year for readers of 11+ has to be Geek Girl by Holly Smale (HarperCollins, £6.99), shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. Harriet Manners is a super smart girl who loves literature and science. When she’s accidentally talent-spotted by a model agency, can she transform herself from geek to chic? A wonderful book about discovering who you are and overcoming bullying, based on the author’s own experiences. I also adored Darcy Burdock by the irrepressible Laura Dockrill (Red Fox, £5.99). Darcy is a girl who sees the ‘extraordinary in the everyday and the wonder in the world.’ She’s a true original and this book is hilarious, anarchic and also brilliant for reading out loud.

geek girl cover
geek girl cover

Readers of nine plus will adore Judi Curtin’s new book, Eva and the Hidden Diary (O’Brien, e7.99), a charming story about Eva Gordon, who is good at solving problems. When she finds an old diary, written by a girl her own age, she and her friend, Kate are determined to fix old wrongs. They will also love Coco Carmel by Cathy Cassidy (Puffin, e12.99), a beautifully crafted story about family hardships and the power of friendship.

John Boyne’s new novel for children, Stay Where You Are and Then Leave (Doubleday, £12.99) is set in London during World War I and is a moving and uplifting read; and Rebecca Stead won the Guardian Award for Liar and Spy (Andersen Press, £6.99), a clever mystery cum family drama. Georges has to move into a new apartment block where he meets an unusual boy called Safer. But how far should he go for his new friend? And if they haven’t already read it, When You Reach Me by the same author  is a truly wonderful time slip novel set in Ne York. One of my favourite books of the last ten years. (All age 11+)

Derek Landy has two new Skulduggery Pleasant books out this year – Tanith Low in The Maleficent Seven (HarperCollins, £10.99) and Last Stand of Dead Men (HarperCollins, £14.99) (Age 9+). There’s a new Wimpy Kid adventure, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck (Puffin, £12.99); and WARP Book 1: The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer (Puffin, £12.99) is a clever time-travel adventure. (Age 11+)


And finally for this age group, The Keeper (Little Island, e10.99) is Darragh Martin’s debut novel and it’s a cracking fantasy adventure novel with an Irish flavour; and Alan Early’s Arthur Quinn and the Hell’s Keeper (Mercier, e8.99) is perfect for readers who love myths and legends with a modern twist. (Both age 9+)

 YA (young adult/teen) novels

My favourite YA novel of the year is a tie between The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Penguin, £7.99) which has already been widely reviewed, and Patrick Ness’ More Than This (Walker, £12.99), one of the most original books I’ve read in years; part science fiction, part exploration of love and family, and so much more. In the opening chapter, Seth drowns and wakes up in the suburban English town where he grew up. As he begins to explore his surroundings, slowly things start to make sense. Wickedly clever, utterly convincing, this book is outstanding, don’t miss it. And look out for John Green’s story in the seasonal collection, Let It Snow (Puffin, 7.99).

Back to Blackbrick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald (Orion, £9.99) is a compelling time shift drama about love and loss featuring Cosmo and his grandad, Kevin who has Alzheimer’s. Published in January, it’s a book that has stayed with me all year. Inspired by Anna Carey’s time as a singer in the band El Diablo, her new book, Rebecca Rocks (O’Brien Press e7.99) is a charming, uplifting story for young teenagers dealing with bullying, friendship and teen sexuality. I also liked Improper Order by Deirdre Sullivan (Little Island, e7.99), a quirky story about Primrose Leary. Sullivan teen voice is pitch perfect.

more than this
more than this

And finally to Russian Roulette by Anthony Horowitz (Walker Books, £14.99) which features a young assassin, Yassen Gregorovich who has been dispatched to kill Alex Rider. If you’ve ever wondered how a killer is created, read Yassen’s story. It’s quite simply one of the best teen spy thrillers I’ve ever read.

Other books I loved this year:

Picture Books

Journey by Aaron Becker

A story about a lonely child in a busy world and the power of the imagination, told in pictures. It's powerful stuff and the illustrations are sublime. (All ages)


Image from Journey


After Iris by Natasha Farrant

I met Natasha at Bath Children's Book Festival - and she's as interesting as her book. A touching and beautifully written book and family and loss. (Age 11+)

Rat Runners by Oisin McGann

An action packed novel set in London of the future. A great thriller for teens.

Heroic by Phil Earle

A brilliant story about two brothers, Jammy and Sonny. One is a soldier in Afghanistan, one has been left behind. Gritty, smart, moving, it's well worth reading.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

A thought-provoking, fast moving sci-fi novel for teens.

Sarah Webb is a writer for both children and adults. Her latest book for children is Ask Amy Green: Wedding Belles. She also reviews children’s books for The Irish Independent and Inis magazine. www.sarahwebb.ie @sarahwebbishere www.facebook.com/askamygreen

Haiku for Aliens - How to Write the Perfect Picture Book

Me Reading a Picture Book to a Child
Me Reading a Picture Book to a Child

I’ve been teaching a course on writing for children at the Irish Writers’ Centre. I love teaching and the class is one of the highlights of my week – two hours spent in the company of like minded people who all love children’s books as much as I do.

Last week we looked at picture books. As two of the class were sick I promised I’d give them some notes. I’m sharing them here in case they are useful to you also.

Writing picture books has been described as writing ‘haiku for aliens’. It’s definitely closer to writing poetry than anything else.

lost and found cover
lost and found cover

A lot of people think ‘Hey, I could write a picture book. Bang out a story about a teddy bear or a talking rabbit, get my mate to draw some pictures and bingo!’ But they are so wrong. Picture books are the hardest books of all to write. Every word matters. Every single line has to move the story along. Every page turn has to be a cliff hanger. Easy? No way, José!

 What is a picture book?

A picture book is an illustrated book for young children of age 18 months to about 5 or 6 (or 44 – I love picture books!). There are usually colour illustrations on every page and the story is told through the words and pictures.

 Why do they have to be brilliant?

Unlike novels for older children, picture books are read over and over again. Not only do you have to appeal to children, you also have to appeal to adults – parents, teachers, librarians. They are the ones reading Busy, Busy World or Where The Wild Things Are hundreds of times!

 How long should a picture book be?

Between 150 and 600 words. Ideally 400 to 500 words. Of course, if you’re the next Shaun Tan or Lauren Child, a publisher may make an exception.

Shaun Tan's Work
Shaun Tan's Work

 How many pages?

The average picture book has 32 pages – count them!

This is broken down into 24 pages of text and illustration or 12 double page spreads (sometimes slightly more if the end papers are used).

Again, if you are Oliver Jeffers, you may get away with a longer story, but if it’s your first book, it’s best to stick to the norm.

 Do I need to be an artist too?

lost and found
lost and found

No. Publishers have plenty of great illustrators on their books. They are looking for strong, original picture book texts.

 Where do I start?

I would suggest starting with your own childhood – as this is what will make your story different. For example:

Is there a favourite toy you had as a child? Did it ever get lost? (Dogger by Shirley Hughes is a great example of a lost toy story)

Was there a favourite place you loved to go as a child? Did you have a tree house? A Wendy house? A special dressing up box?

heart and bottle
heart and bottle

Don’t be afraid of using strong emotion in your text – Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers is about loneliness and friendship; The Heart and the Bottle is about love and loss.

What about universal stories? You could write about one of the following in a new or original way:

Overcoming the Monster – Little Red Riding Hood

Rags to Riches – Cinderella

Rebirth – The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Quest – Lost and Found

Voyage and Return; Comedy; even Tragedy (Not Now, Bernard by David McKee).

You could rewrite an old fairy tale in a clever way or an Irish myth or legend.

Think warmth, humour, family, love and universal themes.

Good luck with your mini masterpieces!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

 Some Recommended Picture Books

Oliver Jeffers – Lost and Found and The Heart and the Bottle

Lauren Child – Clarice Bean, That’s Me

where the wild things are
where the wild things are

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

The Red Tree by Shaun Tan

If you’d like more information on writing picture books try:

writing with pictures
writing with pictures

How To Write a Children’s Picture Book by Andrea Shavick or Writing with Pictures by Uri Shelevitz

Learning From Oliver Jeffers

I’ve always liked Oliver Jeffers – both the man and his wonderful picture books. I first met him almost ten years ago, just after his first book, How to Catch a Star was published. It was at a Children’s Books Ireland conference in Dublin and from the start I loved his passion and his enthusiasm for his work.

The weekend before last I had the good luck to catch him not once but twice at Offset, a wonderful conference held in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin which celebrates design and illustration. He spoke to a crowd of thousands about his painting and his picture books. Afterwards he gave a very honest and inspiring public interview to one of the Offset organisers.

During this he spoke about ‘people who do things and people who talk about doing things’. Oliver works on a huge amount of different projects – often simultaneously – exhibitions of his paintings, exhibitions of his drawings, picture books, illustrating other people’s novels, book covers. He only takes on projects that he truly loves and he works HARD. His work has to mean something – to him. If it means something to him, then he figures that maybe it will mean something to other people too.

There is no secret to his success – yes, he’s talented and driven but most of all he simply ‘does things’.

He believes in his work. He believes that his work is important, yet approaches it with a sense of fun and play. Are YOU a doer or a talker? Do you believe in your work? Do you approach it with a sense of fun and play? It’s worth thinking about. We all have a lot to learn from Oliver Jeffers.

Yours in writing,