siobhan parkinson

Long Live the New Irish Children's Laureate, Eoin Colfer!

eoin colfer
eoin colfer

Eoin Colfer was announced as the third Laureate na nÓg, Children's Laureate of Ireland, at a special event at the Arts Council today. He was awarded his Laureate’s ‘medal’ by Minister Fergus O’Dowd who said Eoin was a ‘magical’ writer who would open up the minds of young people over all the world in his new role. Laureate na nÓg is an initiative of the Arts Council with the support of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Children’s Books Ireland, Poetry Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. The honour was established to engage young people with high quality children’s literature and to underline the importance of children’s literature in our cultural and imaginative lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

More Than This and Other Brilliant New YA Books

Over the last few weeks I’ve finally had a chance to catch up on some reading. There’s a bumper crop of children’s and YA novels out now and in the autumn to satisfy all kinds of readers. Here is a whistle stop tour of some of them. I’ve scored them out of ten. 1/ More Than This by Patrick Ness (out 5th September Walker Books, £12.99)

More Than This
More Than This

In a word – WOW. This book is something really special. It’s long – almost 500 pages – but once I got stuck in I couldn’t stop. It’s YA science fiction at its ground breaking best. One of the most original books I’ve read in years, it’s simply mind blowing.

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 brilliant, don’t miss it.


2/ Have a Little Faith by Candy Harper (Simon and Schuster £6.99)

Written in diary format, this book for young teens is nothing ground breaking but the main character, Faith is feisty and fun. There’s lots of clever use of language and the usual teen angst. A good read for Louise Rennison or Anna Carey fans.


after iris
after iris

3/ After Iris by Natasha Farrant (Faber)

I loved this book. Bluebell and her family are all trying to get on with their lives after Bluebell’s twin sister, Iris’ death. But life is never easy in this crazy, emotional household. There are pet rats who drive cars, a lovely male au pair from Eastern Europe, a cute but damaged boy, film scripts and more in this brilliant, multi-layered book about families, loss and love. Do read it!


4/ Severed Heads, Broken Hearts (Simon and Schuster £6.99)

A wonderful American YA novel with definite echoes of John Green. After an accident which has left popular jock Ezra Faulkner scarred and unable to walk without a stick, he finds new friends in the debate team. But what happens when his old friends (and girlfriend) claim him back? Will he walk or will he stick by his new friends?


rebecca rocks
rebecca rocks

5/ My review of Rebecca Rocks by Anna Carey (O’Brien e7.99) will be in the Irish Independent soon and here is a sneak preview:

Inspired by Carey’s days as a singer in the band El Diablo, Rebecca Rocks is set in a summer music camp and the writer’s hands-on experience shines through in this charming, uplifting story. Fourteen-year-old Dubliner, Rebecca has a mother who writes embarrassing romantic sagas, a father who fancies himself as a musical theatre star and an annoying older sister, Rachel who is always teasing her.

Rebecca’s band, Hey Dollface, decide to attend a summer music camp where they come up against the Crack Parrots and their lead singer, Charlie. Charlie likes to embarrass girls by showing them porn on his mobile phone and picks on boys who look different by calling them ‘gay’. But when he pushes things too far, Rebecca and her friends learn that sometimes you have to stand up for other people and fight back.

Carey doesn’t shy away from dealing with highly topical issues such as bullying, sexuality and internet porn. She never preaches and deals with her subjects in an honest, straight-forward manner. Being a novel, there is of course a happy ending but it’s not a conventional one. The friendship between Rebecca and her band mates is loyal and genuine and although they do worry about having a boy (or in Cass’s case a girl) friend, their love lives do not define them. At the end of the book Rebecca is alone yet happy, which is unusual for a young adult book, yet this works perfectly with the theme of the novel – acceptance.

For the full review, see the Irish Independent next Saturday (or the following one).


I also read Wormwood by Katherine Farmer (Little Island) an urban fantasy adventure for teens set in Ireland 6/10; One Moment by Kristina McBride (Usborne) a solid but predictable American YA novel about friendship and betrayal 5/10; Split Second by Sophie McKenzie (Simon and Schuster), a fast-paced book set in the future about the aftermath of a bomb in London. 6/10

This month’s to read pile includes new books by Meg Rosoff, John Boyne, Judi Curtin, Anthony Horowitz and Siobhan Parkinson. I can’t wait!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX