children's books ireland

When Sarah Met Judi

Judi Curtin
Judi Curtin

I can’t remember when I first met Judi Curtin. It was almost certainly at a book event. It could have been a festival or a launch or a reading drive. I knew her writing of course, I’d read and enjoyed her first book, Alice Next Door when I was a children’s bookseller and I’ve loved every book since. She has a way of drawing the reader in and a lovely warmth to her writing, and her characters are so real they almost jump off the page. But I can pinpoint when we started to become not just fellow writers, but proper friends. A few years ago myself, Judi and Sophia Bennett went on tour together around Ireland with Children’s Books Ireland. We talked to hundreds of girls about our books and about reading and writing. We had a wonderful tour manager, Tom Donegan, who now works in The Story Museum in Oxford.

Here’s Judi

Every evening we had dinner together. We chatted about all kinds of things – books, writing and our lives – and it was terrific fun.

Then I went on another tour with Judi, this time with the Irish library service. We took Oisin McGann along with us to join in the fun. And he even did ballet with us! That cemented my friendship with Judi (and Oisin in fact, who is a brilliant man and a wonderful writer).

Judi and I are very different – she’s practical, patient and kind. I’m impulsive, passionate and stubborn. She’s calm and I can be a bit manic at times. It’s great to be able to compare writing and publishing experiences with her. We both write for girls of age 8/9+ and love talking about our work.

Judi has helped me more than she knows and I like to think that I have helped her too. Myself and Oisin even helped her pick a title for one of her books – Viva Alice!

viva alice - judi curtin event book cover
viva alice - judi curtin event book cover

Judi made me this little fellow – Greg from the Wimpy Kid books – as she knows I like him. When I go to school events, I love showing him to the children and telling them that Judi made it. They are always very impressed that I know Judi.


This year Judi and I are doing some special events together at festivals, talking about our friendship. The first one is on Saturday March 21st and is called When Judi Met Sarah and it’s part of theMountains to Sea Book Festival in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, Ireland. If you would like to book tickets you can do so on the website here.

Songbird Cafe_Mollie final cover
Songbird Cafe_Mollie final cover

March is a busy time for me as I also have a new book out called Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake in The Songbird Cafe Girls series. It’s set on an island called Little Bird and it even has its own map. I love maps in books! Judi knows all about the characters and plot at this stage and she also helped me with the cover.

Writer friends really are great.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on the Girls Heart Books website.

My Predictions for the Children's Books Ireland Awards 2015

In March the shortlist for the Children's Books Ireland (CBI) Book of the Year Awards will be announced. Over the last few years I've put together my predictions for the shortlist. (Purely my own opinion. I am on the CBI Board but not on the judging panel.) You can see the predictions for last year here and the previous year here. The shortlist is for books published in 2014 and covers all age groups and all genres (fiction only). It includes books published in the Irish language. The writers/illustrators must be Irish or resident in Ireland.

2014 was an interesting year for children's books, with some stand out YA novels (young adult) in particular.

So here's my list. See if you agree with my choices - I'd be interested to know what you think. There are usually 8 to 10 books on the list. All the categories are not always awarded - eg Special Judge's Award.

louise oneill
louise oneill

CBI Book of the Year Award 2014

I would like to see Louise O'Neill win this award for her stunning YA novel, Only Ever Yours. However it may not as it tends to divide opinion. I think it's brave, original and still has people talking about its characters and plot over six months after its publication.

 Eilís Dillon Award (first book)

Again, Louise O'Neill. It has happened before. In 2011 (awarded for a book published in 2010), Chris Haughton won both for A Bit Lost. Kim Hood could also be a contender for this award for Finding a Voice. It will depend on the judge's preferences.

shh we have
shh we have

 Honour Award for Illustration

For me this is a toss up between Chris Haughton for Shh! We Have a Plan, a glorious picture book with glowing illustrations and Oliver Jeffers' clever and beautifully produced Once Upon an Alphabet. I'll go with Chris.

 Honour Award for Fiction

sarah crossan book cover
sarah crossan book cover

I'm not sure about this award as it makes no sense to award Louise O'Neill the overall prize but not to give her this one also. Unless this prize is for the second best novel. If it's for the best, then Louise O'Neill. If it's for the second best, then for me Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan and The Apple Tart of Hope by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald stand out. I still can't understand why Sarah's first book was not shortlisted last year. Back to Blackbrick is a great YA novel. 

 Judge's Special Award

This is not awarded every year - and I'm not sure it will be this year, unless Oliver Jeffers' Alphabet qualifies. Of course being completely biased (as I edited it), I'd love to see Beyond the Stars shortlisted. But as it's a collection of 12 stories and 12 illustrations, all by different creatives, it may not fit the award criteria. We shall see.

Shortlisted Titles

Other titles I believe deserve to be on the shortlist are:

yasmeen image 1
yasmeen image 1

Specs for Rex by Yasmeen Ismail 

A fun, fresh book with wonderfully lively illustrations and colours that sing.

Brilliant by Roddy Doyle, illustrated by Chris Judge

A book with a lot of heart with astoundingly good illustrations by Chris Judge. I'd shortlist it for them alone, but together they make a cracking team.

City of Fate by Nicola Pierce

If the judges like historical fiction, they may shortlist this strong novel about the Battle of Stalingrad.

I've already mentioned Apple and Rain and The Apple Tart of Hope on the YA end of things, but I'd also add Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan, a moving with some of the best teen dialogue I've ever read in an 'Irish' YA novel (Brian lives in Ireland).

Other possible contenders:

The Fish in the Bathtub by Eoin Colfer

Skulduggery Pleasant: The Dying of the Light by Derek Landy

The Black North by Nigel McDowell

Irish language:

Pop! by Andrew Whitson and Caitríona Nic Sheáin

Songbird Cafe_Mollie final cover
Songbird Cafe_Mollie final cover

Watch out for my new book, The Songbird Cafe: Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake which will be published in March by Walker Books. 

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.

Dos and Don'ts for School and Library Events

book festival image 2013
book festival image 2013

On the first day of the Children's Book Festival in Ireland, I though I'd post this list - dos and don'ts for school and library visits: 1/ Do have a glass or bottle of water ready for the author.

2/ Do make sure they get fed at the relevant times – lunch is always good!

3/ If they are staying over, put them up in the hotel/guesthouse that you would choose to stay in – warm, quiet and clean. Remember some of your authors may need to write in the evenings – so do take this into consideration – a tiny room without a desk is a no no.

4/ Please don’t expect them to drive 50 or 60 miles between events – remember many authors are city slickers and more used to trains and buses.

5/ Think about the logistics and what’s best for the author – it might be a better use of their time to base them in the main library rather than slepping them all over the county.

6/ Send them directions to your school or library that are easy to follow and accurate – they do not need to go on a wild goose chase just before their event.

7/ Make sure the person at the desk/in reception knows an author is coming and greets them with a smile. Not a ‘Who? Sorry, don’t know anything about that. Wait here until I get someone.’ (More common than you might think.)

8/ Make an effort with posters – these can be ordered from the author’s publisher in advance – or at the very least type welcome and the author’s name on a sheet of paper and stick it to the front door. Make the author feel wanted – authors are sensitive souls, be kind.

9/ A follow up email/letter to say thanks for visiting is always nice.

10/ Do try to have the author’s books in stock – they will look for them on the shelves!

11/ If the author asks for 5th and 6th class girls, don’t give them 1st class boys – there is a reason for their request. And make sure the school understands this and doesn’t turn up with every child from JI to 6th class. It is a huge advantage – to both the writer and the children – if the children have read the author’s books in advance. At the very least they should know a/ who the author is and b/what books they write.

12/ Where possible, give the writer a large audience. Writers like talking to lots of children. Unless it’s a workshop – one class max for workshops. When in doubt, ask the writer – how many children do you like at your sessions?

Some of the brilliant things libraries and schools have done for me recently:

Made lovely welcome posters.

One school had a group of children who had read my books welcome me at reception and take me to the school hall where I was speaking. Usually it’s a teacher – so this was a nice touch.

In one school in Athy the mothers and teachers made cakes and came to welcome me, along with their children. This also happened in Griffeen Valley Educate Together School where the teachers and parents are very keen on reading.

Alexandra School library provided six copies of Amy Green, Teen Agony Queen for the girls to win on the day of the visit. Afterwards the students gave me a book token and a box of chocolates. Plus a follow up thank you card. Gold star to Alexandra School!