irish children's writers

Review of The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne

John Boyne
John Boyne

John Boyne is one of Ireland’s most versatile, prolific and hard working writers. His latest novel for adults, A History of Loneliness which examines child abuse in the Catholic Church was widely praised for its candour, and he recently published Beneath the Fire, a collection of short stories, again for adults. Add to the mix his new children’s book, The Boy at the Top of the Mountain and we begin to wonder if there are in fact two John Boynes.

Boyne became an international name after the publication of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which has won countless awards and was also made into a successful movie. Set in Auschwitz, it’s the story of nine year old Bruno, the son of a German officer and his burgeoning friendship with Shmuel, a boy literally from the other side of the fence.

boy at the top
boy at the top

The same German officer and his family also appear briefly in The Boy at the Top of the Mountain. Set once again during World War II, the hero (or anti-hero) of Boyne’s new book is Pierrot, a young boy living in Paris with a French mother and a (deceased) German father. His best friend is Ansel, a young Jewish boy with a gift for writing. When his mother dies, after a short spell in an orphanage, Pierrot is sent to live with his aunt, a housekeeper at the Berghof, Hitler’s infamous mountain-top residence in the Bavarian Alps.

Pierrot, now renamed Pieter by his aunt to keep him safe, becomes obsessed by Hitler who takes him under his wing and, twisted by the man’s philosophies and impressed by his power, the once sweet, innocent boy learns to hate. Pierrot’s rapid transformation from kind eight year old to cruel Hitlerjugend, happy to betray all those close to him, is chilling.

Boyne ends the novel in a poignant, hopeful manner but it does not dispel the sense of darkness that hangs over the reader. But as this is a book about warped egos, evil and manipulation could it be any other way? This powerful, unsettling novel is a must read for older children (11+) and adults.

Sarah Webb’s latest book for children is Sunny Days and Mooncakes (Walker Books).

5 Things You Might Not Know About Writer, Alan Nolan

5 Things You Might Not Know About Alan Nolan

Alan Nolan
Alan Nolan

See Alan in Action at the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival (details below)

 1. Alan was born with a full head of red hair. It fell out before he was six months old and grew back dark brown. It’s now falling out again!

2. His first comic was called Splat and featured a lazy superhero character called the Bedspread who travelled around in the Bedmobile (a double bed with wheels) and lethargically fought crime in Slug City. The Bedspreads arch-enemy was called Wakey Wakey.

3. Alan loves spiders, caterpillars and beetles (in fact, he loves all ‘creepy crawlies’), but he’s deathly scared of mice and rats.

4. He has read every Charles Dickens novel at least twice. His favourite is A Christmas Carol, which he owns fives copies of – one with illustrations by Arthur Rackham, and one illustrated with puppets made by Fluck & Law of Spitting Image fame.

5. He used to be a huge fan of Star Trek, and has a full Star Trek The Next Generation costume in his wardrobe. Unfortunately, over the years the shirt and waistband of the uniform trousers have ‘shrunk in the wash’.

fintans 15 cover
fintans 15 cover

See Alan in Action at the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival

My Favourite Superheroes with Alan Nolan - Comic Book Fun for All the Family

Assembly Room, County Hall, Dun Laoghaire  Saturday September 13th @ 10.30 to 11.30am

e4 per child (age 7+)/e6 per adult  To book: 01 2312929 or 

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