derek landy

Demon Road - Derek Landy's New Series

FROM THE CREATOR OF SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT COMES DEMON ROAD Harpercollins Children’s Books sign new Derek Landy Series (LONDON - 4 MARCH 2015)

Derek Landy
Derek Landy

HarperCollins Children’s Books is delighted to announce a mind-blowing new YA trilogy from Derek Landy, the genius behind the #1 bestselling international genre-busting sensation Skulduggery Pleasant. UK and Commonwealth rights in three titles were acquired by Nick Lake, Publishing Director, from Michelle Kass at Michelle Kass Associates. The first book in the DEMON ROAD trilogy will publish in hardback in September 2015 with the second and third following at six month intervals.

Full of Landy’s trademark wit, action and razor sharp dialogue, DEMON ROAD kicks off with a shocking opener and never lets up the pace in an epic road-trip across the supernatural landscape of America. Killer cars, vampires, undead serial killers: they’re all here. And the demons? Well, that’s where Amber comes in...

Sixteen years old, smart and spirited, she’s just a normal American teenager until the lies are torn away and the demons reveal themselves. Forced to go on the run, she hurtles from one threat to another, revealing a tapestry of terror woven into the very fabric of her life. Her only chance rests with her fellow travellers, who are not at all what they appear to be…

Derek Landy says, “Having completely indulged myself whilst writing Skulduggery Pleasant, I needed my new series to be as frenetic, as frightening, and as fun. I am having an indecently splendid time writing about Amber and Milo and the 1970 Dodge Charger they drive (that may or may not have a murderous mind of its own). I am excited that our six-month publishing schedule means that the books will be moving almost as fast as the car itself, as we get them into the hands of our voraciousreaders. Nick Lake and the entire team at Harper Collins Children’s Books have nurtured Skulduggery Pleasant to success with unheard-of care and attention. I am thrilled beyond measure that we get to take this journey on the Demon Road together.”

Nick Lake says, “We first published Derek Landy in 2007 and are so delighted that he’s now taking us to a whole new realm. A filmic thrill-ride, DEMON ROAD is a journey that all of Derek’s fans will want to take – and legions of new readers will

Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty - Review

It's about to get Legendary all over Ireland

Sarah Webb on the first in a new fantasy series by the arts journalist, Shane Hegarty (review first published in the Irish Independent)

shane hegarty
shane hegarty

Shane Hegarty, a well-known arts journalist, made his own headlines in 2013 when news broke of his six-figure children's book deal following a frenzied auction at the Bologna Book Fair. His debut children's novel, Darkmouth, the book that caused all the excitement and cheque waving, is published next week. So does it live up to the hype?

The answer, in a word, is yes. I haven't been this excited about a fantasy adventure novel since I read Derek Landy's first Skulduggery Pleasant book in 2007. Interestingly, Hegarty and Landy share the same publishing house, HarperCollins, and the same publicist, Mary Byrne, one of the best in the business. (Not that Mary Byrne, although she is Irish!) If anyone can make Darkmouth a successful international brand, she can.

The book opens in the rather Dickensian, mist-swirling town of Darkmouth, the last 'Blighted Village' in Ireland that still has 'Legends' or monsters, terrifying man-eating creatures from myths and fables. Enter 12-year-old Finn, the youngest of generations of Legend Hunters. The future of Darkmouth rests on his shoulders, but there's one major problem: Finn is more likely to run away from a Minotaur rather than successfully shoot one with his Ghostbusters-nod Desiccator gun.

His father, the Rambo of Legend Hunters, is determined to change this and his son's gruelling training begins. But when the village is threatened with the worst attack of Legends ever encountered , will Finn rise to the challenge?

It's hard to believe that this is Hegarty's first children's book. His characters, including Finn's mysterious and plucky new friend, Emmie and the 'Hogboon' from the 'Infected Side', Broonie, are beautifully crafted and utterly believable. There are hilarious scenes and brilliant wise cracks that reminded me of Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl, balanced with gentle family scenes between Finn and his hilarious and hard-working dentist mum, a character who will have bedtime-story reading mums cheering out loud. Kudos to Hegarty for making an adult woman in a fantasy-adventure novel not only super smart but witty too. The difficult relationship between Finn and his ambitious and testosterone-driven father is also touching and real.

Darkmouth_Front_RGB2 (1)
Darkmouth_Front_RGB2 (1)

Hegarty's writing has an attractive lightness of touch which is spot on for the nine-plus age group and now and then his character's clever life observations make you sit up and take notice. It's slightly slow to get going, as Hegarty has a lot of world-building to do, but once the action kicks in, it's a rollercoaster of a read.

The story is enhanced by the magnificent black and white line drawings by James de la Rue. Illustrations in children's novels are making a comeback and it's a brave and savvy move, one that will make this book stand out in the international fantasy-adventure fray.

Book two in the series, Into the Infested Side, will be published in July, so readers don't have too long to wait for their second Darkmouth fix. With a cracking story, eye-catching cover design and catchy but simple tag line: 'It's about to get Legendary', I think the clever folk at HarperCollins may have another superstar writer on their hands. Watch out, Landy, there's a new kid in town!

Darkmouth; Shane Hegarty; HarperCollins, hdbk, 416pp, £9.99

Sarah Webb's new book for younger readers, The Songbird Café: Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake, will be published in March

Spring 2016 Children's and Teen Highlights

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
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.

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).

darkmouth 3
darkmouth 3

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).

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
Aurora Book Cover

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

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

How to Write Short Stories (and Win Writing Competitions)

ghb comp
ghb comp

Want to win the Beyond the Stars Short Story Competition and be published along with Eoin Colfer, Judi Curtin and Derek Landy? Or simply want to find out how to write a brilliant story? Then read on.

1/ Before you start writing, think about your story and your characters. Go for a walk and mull it all over in your head, then grab a notebook and start scribbling down some ideas.

2/ You could start with your own memories or things that have happened to you or a friend – as this is what will make your story different. For example: Is there a favourite place you love to hide? Do you have a tree house or a club house? Have you ever had a fight with your best friend?

3/ Or try using a traditional story as your starting point and re-write it in a new or unusual way eg an Irish or English (or Welsh or Scottish) Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, based in your home town. You could re-write a traditional legend using modern characters and setting.

4/ Your characters can be children, teenagers, giants, talking animals or astronauts – the sky is the limit. But make them realistic and give them carefully thought out names that suit who they are. Think of Matilda, Charlie and James in Dahl’s books. The Harry Potter books are full of great names, as are Cathy Cassidy’s books.

5/ Once you have mapped out your main characters (for a short story don’t use too many main characters – two or three is plenty), and your plot, give your story an exciting or intriguing opening. Start at the point where the action begins – you don’t need to add back story. Avoid any long descriptions, readers will be eager to learn what happens in the story, not what the sky looks like.

6/ Think about the setting of your story – where will it take place? And add details – icicles, food. Use your senses to add depth to the tale – smell, taste, touch. What does the forest/back garden smell like?

7/ Conflict is vital in any story. Without the Big Bad Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood wouldn’t be a very interesting story. Think of the favourite traditional tales – Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, even Pinocchio – they are full of larger than life characters and HUGE emotions. Love, hate, revenge . . . think big and don’t be afraid to use strong emotions.

8/ Keep rewriting the story until it’s as good as you can make it. I rewrite each of my Ask Amy Green books many times before handing them over to my editor. And finally, ask a trusted friend to look over your work before you submit, a second pair of eyes can make all the difference.

Good Luck!

Yours in writing, Sarah XXX

(Editor of Beyond the Stars)

This post first appeared on the Girls Heart Books website.

All Star Irish Line Up - Beyond the Stars - to Support Fighting Words

Roddy Doyle
Roddy Doyle

Harper Collins Press Release HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISH ALL STAR IRISH LINE UP IN SUPPORT OF RODDY DOYLE’S CREATIVE WRITING CENTRE AND SEEK NEW TALENT TO COMPLETE THE COLLECTION HarperCollins is delighted to announce the acquisition of Beyond the Stars, a collection of short stories from a stellar line up of Irish authors and illustrators, edited by bestselling author Sarah Webb. World rights were acquired by Publishing Director Ruth Alltimes from Philippa Milnes-Smith of the Lucas Alexander Whitley Agency.  All profits will go to Fighting Words, the centre for creative writing set up in Dublin in 2009 by Roddy Doyle and Sean Love. Based on David Eggers’ US-based 826 Valencia project and run by volunteers, it offers free creative writing tuition to children. Beyond the Stars features twelve tales of adventure, magic and wonder, written by some of the most outstanding talents in children’s fiction today, including John Boyne, Eoin Colfer, Judi Curtin, Roddy Doyle, and Derek Landy, with stunning illustrations from the likes of Chris Haughton, Chris Judge, P. J. Lynch and Niamh Sharkey. It will be published as a gorgeous hardback gift edition in October 2014. The Irish authors have contributed eleven short stories and to complete the book HarperCollins is launching a search for the twelfth and final winter-themed tale, to be written by a child between the ages of 8 and 16. The competition closes at the end of June 2014 and the final choice will be made by a panel of experts and illustrated by Irish Children’s Laureate, Niamh Sharkey. The winner will have the chance to work with an editor and see their story published; their school will also win a selection of books for their school library. Full details can be found at Ruth Alltimes said, ‘We are proud to be able to support the wonderful work done by Fighting Words and to bring our publishing passion to a project which builds on the strong relationship we have with Irish talent. Sarah Webb and the writers and illustrators involved have been extremely generous with their work and time – it is truly a creative writing project from the heart, and we’re delighted to be part of it.’ Sarah Webb said, ‘It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with some of the best children’s writers and illustrators on Beyond the Stars. I am extremely grateful for their support. I can’t wait to see the competition winner’s story nestling alongside their stunning work – what a prize!’ Roddy Doyle said, ‘Fighting Words is not state funded, and our existence is dependent on people who believe passionately in what we do – like the writers and illustrators of these brilliant stories. We are especially grateful to a great friend of Fighting Words, Sarah Webb, the creative and driving force behind this wonderful collection.’

Issued by: Mary Byrne, Publicist, HarperCollins Children’s Books T. 020 8307 4541  E. Rights Enquiries: Carla Alonzi, Head of Rights, HarperCollins Children’s Books T. 020 8307 4289  E. NOTES TO EDITORS • HarperCollins UK publishes a wide range of books, from cutting-edge contemporary fiction, to block-busting thrillers, from fantasy literature and children’s books to enduring classics. It also publishes a great selection of non-fiction titles, including history, celebrity memoirs, biographies, popular science, dictionaries, maps, reference titles and education books, and its digital business is thriving. With nearly 200 years of history HarperCollins publishes some of the world’s foremost authors, from Nobel prizewinners to worldwide bestsellers. In addition it publishes the works of Agatha Christie, JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. It was the first major UK trade publisher to go carbon neutral in December 2007. HarperCollins Children’s Books is one of the leading publishers of children’s books, recognised for nurturing new talent as well as boasting a reputable list of established best-selling authors. Respected worldwide for its tradition of publishing quality, award-winning books for young readers, HarperCollins is home to many children’s classics, including The Chronicles of Narnia, Hello Kitty, the Paddington stories, The Cat in the Hat and The Tiger Who Came to Tea, and to some of the biggest names in children’s literature past and present, including J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, Dr. Seuss, David Walliams, Derek Landy, Louise Rennison, Lauren Child, Judith Kerr, Oliver Jeffers and Michael Morpurgo.

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. @sarahwebbishere

Why the Future of Books is Safe with Our Hungry Young Readers

Me Reading to a Child
Me Reading to a Child

CHILDREN are still reading. That's a fact. Children and teenagers have not fallen into a technological black hole – they still want and need books.

Irish and UK sales figures for the first half of the year show a healthy rise in sales of novelty books (6pc), picture books (2pc) and, if you strip out the phenomena that is 'The Hunger Games', a whopping 12pc rise in sales of teenage fiction. Publishers are putting money behind children's books like never before and Dubray Books has just invested in 'Mad About Books', a full-colour guide to more than 400 books for children and teenagers.As a parent, a bookseller and a writer, this is all very reassuring. Yes, reading fluently has been proven to give children an advantage in all areas of their education, but books have a far more important role to play in young people's lives.

Books make children think – they make them engage their brain. Readers are not passive vessels, watching images flicker across a screen; they are recreating the story in their heads. They are fighting alongside Skulduggery Pleasant, lolloping across the hills with Sophie and the Big Friendly Giant.

Books are quiet. There are no bangs or crashes. While you are reading, virtual zombies do not point guns in your face and threaten to blow your brains out. Other gamers are not shouting obscenities into your ears through your headset. Yes, there is violence in fiction. What happens in 'The Hunger Games' is not pretty. Harry Potter has to battle pure evil. But there is cause and consequence. Lives are lost, but we care about those who are now dead. The reader can pause and reflect on the loss of characters who have become very real to them. Charlotte the spider, Dobby, Sirius Black. There is no 'kill/die', then step over the bodies.

Children learn from picture books without even knowing they are learning. My kids know all about the life-cycle of the butterfly from 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar'. They also learn more subtle things, like how a good plot is constructed, or how rhyme scheme works.

Books encourage empathy. While reading, children walk in other children's shoes. They travel to Africa with Michael Morpurgo and his Butterfly Lion; to the concentration camps of World War II with John Boyne ('The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'); and to Ireland during the Famine with Marita Conlon-McKenna ('Under the Hawthorne Tree'). They learn how it feels to be hungry or terrified; to come up against enormous obstacles and to win.

Children's books feature plucky, brave characters, both male and female. Especially female. The characters in Judi Curtin's tales (aimed at pre-teen readers) stand up for themselves. My own character, Amy Green, is a kind and loyal friend. These girls are not covered in make-up or fake tan; they do not aspire to be 'famous', or if they do, it is for a talent they have worked hard at. In Anna Carey's new book, 'Rebecca Rocks', 14-year-old Rebecca and her friends have an all-girl rock band and work hard to improve their skills.

They do not speak like vacuous American teenagers. They are interested in boys, but their love lives do not define them. They call a boy out when he tries to show them porn on his mobile phone. In a world of premature sexualisation, Rebecca and her friends are strong role models for girls.

Teenage boys also need strong role models. I was at an event in the RDS in the spring with more than 800 screaming teenagers, at least half of them boys. What was making them so hysterical? An American writer called John Green and his brother, Hank. John's bestselling teenage book, 'The Fault in Our Stars', is about 16-year-old Hazel, who has thyroid cancer, and Augustus, a boy she meets at her cancer support group. It's real, touching and full of emotion. It's just the kind of novel I'd love my 19-year-old son to identify with. And guess what? Teenagers, both female and male, love it, including my son.

The future of books is in good hands.

'Mad About Books: The Dubray Guide to Children's Books', edited by Sarah Webb, is available for €2 from all Dubray bookshops or at

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

Mad About Books - Raising a Child Who Loves to Read

I'm at the Hong Kong International Young Readers Festival in March. I'm giving a talk to parents on raising a child who loves to read. This is the recommended book list for that talk.

 Mad About Books – Raising a Child Who Loves to Read

Hong Kong International Young Readers Festival 2013

Recommended Titles

1/ Babies and Toddlers – Birth to Age 2+

Sing them lullabies, read them nursery rhymes

A good nursery rhyme book – with art work you love – eg Sally Go Round the Stars (Sarah Webb – Irish)

Yummy Yucky by Leslie Patricelli (Board book)

Where’s Spot? By Eric Hill (Board book) 2/ Toddlers of Age 2 +

Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell (Irish)

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury

A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton – (Irish)

Other books to try: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen Farmer Duck – Martin Waddell Alfie’s Feet – Shirley Hughes Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell

3/ Younger Children – age 3 or 4 +

Fairy Tales – invest in a good collection

Oliver Jeffers – Lost and Found, The Heart in the Bottle (Irish)

Chris Judge – The Brave Beast (Irish)

Mo Willems – Knuffle Bunny, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Niamh Sharkey - Irish Children's Laureate  and picture book maker

Other titles to try: Clarice Bean, That’s Me – Lauren Child Olivia by Ian Falconer There are Cats in this Book by Vivian Schwarz Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans Lunchtime by Rebecca Cobb (a new picture book maker) Wolves by Emily Gravett Dogger by Shirley Hughes Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Jill Kerr I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klaussen Marshall Armstrong is New To Our School by David Mackintosh (Irish) Busy Busy World by Richard Scarry The Brave Beast by Chris Judge (Irish) The Gruffalo and other picture books by Julia Donaldson

4/ Early Readers – Age 5/6+

Series books for very first readers:

Elephant and Piggie Series by Mo Willems

The Cat in the Hat and other books by Dr Seuss

Books for young readers to read for themselves:

Roddy Doyle’s The Giggler Treatment (Irish)

The Worst Boy in the World by Eoin Colfer (Irish)

Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald

The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy 5/ Books to Read Aloud to Age 5+

The Secret Garden, Ballet Shoes and any of your personal favourite classics as a child.

Charlotte’s Web by E B White

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearse

The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo

Roald Dahl - Fantastic Mr Fox and Matilda – pick the Dahl titles that you love the most

If they like Dahl they might also like David Walliams – who has written books like Mr Stink

6/ Confident Readers of 9+   J K Rowling Eoin Colfer (Irish) Anthony Horowitz Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan Derek Landy – Skulduggery Pleasant (Irish) Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney The Tom Gates series by L Pichon – great for Wimpy kid fans

Family/friendship books: Cathy Cassidy Jacqueline Wilson Ask Amy Green series by Sarah Webb – age 10+ Judy Blume – Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret Judi Curtin (Irish)

Award winners: Wilderness by Roddy Doyle (Irish) The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – age 10+

Other titles to try: Holes by Louis Sacher Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech Northern Lights – Philip Pullman

7/ Older Readers of 11+

Wonder by R J Palacio

Patrick Ness – A Monster Calls The Knife of Never Letting Go

John Green – The Fault in Our Stars

The Arrival – Shaun Tan

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne (Irish)

Other titles to try: Skellig – David Almond Maus by Art Spigelman (graphic novel) Coraline by Neil Gaiman The Hunger Games series Sabriel by Gareth Nix 8/ Books for Reluctant Readers

Audio books Where’s Wally? Quiz, joke and puzzle books Non fiction – sports biographies Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey The Wimpy Kid books Sports magazines Playstation magazines 9/ Books for Tired Parents

That’s Not My series – published by Usborne

Hug by Jez Alborough

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell 10/ Books for Parents Who Want to Know More

The Ultimate Teen Guide The Ultimate First Book Guide Both published by A and C Black

Babies Need Books by Dorothy Butler

Mad About Books: The Dubray Guide to Children’s Books by Sarah Webb

More about Irish writers and picture book makers:


1/ Choose books that YOU love to read aloud to your children 2/ Be seen reading 3/ Talk about books with your children 4/ Make books part of your family’s history and everyday life