Monday, February 19, 2018

Rocking The System (in Galway!)


I am incredibly excited about this book!
As we celebrate 100 years of Womens' Suffrage and honour the fantastic and inspirational women throughout history, Rocking the System by Siobhan Parkinson (illustrated by Bren Luke) has been released into the wild recently and I think it's publisher, Little Island have every right to be extremely proud. This exceptional book is a collection of twenty essays on Irish women, both historical and contemporary who have bucked the trends, defied cultural norms and brought forth great change in the social structure in Ireland and across the globe through their determination, resourcefulness, intrepid nature and intelligence. The lives of these brave and bold Irish women from all realms of life; politicians, artists, writers, social activists, rebels; are brought forth in a publication that is suitable for ages 10 to 100 years.
From the legendary Queen Mebh through to Mary Robinson to Sonia O'Sullivan, each of these women is given a voice here with a combination of factual information and a fluid writing style that makes this book a joy to read. This book is a MUST. Simply wondrous and inspiriting!
While Rocking the System was launch a short time ago in Dublin by Senator Ivana Bacik, I am especially delighted to announce the Galway launch will take place in the Galway Arts Centre this Thursday, 22 February. It's author, Siobhan Parkinson is originally from Loughrea, co. Galway. Siobhan is quite a legend herself. A multi-award winning author, she has worked tirelessly to bring outstanding books to young people and served as this countrys' first Laureate na nÓg (childrens' laureate.) Her energy and enthusiasm is awe-inspiring. Rocking the System will be launched by Dr. Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington, lecturer, academic and grand-daughter of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington.
This will be an incredible evening for an incredible book.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Come Experience 'The Angelica Touch'

                                                                                                                                                                          Everyone is invited to come along to Charlie Byrne's Bookshop this Thursday, 8 February at 6:30pm
to celebrate the launch of a completely delightful new YA book by LJ Sedgwick... The Angelica Touch! This will be a great evening, with Lindsay talking to us about her writing and reading a bit from The Angelica Touch. If you are in Galway, you won't want to miss this!
I have a review on the Young Adult page of The Angelica Touch. You'll also find a review of Lindsays' previous novel, Dad's Red Dress...which is also just fabulous.
Hope to see you all there!

Monday, February 5, 2018

BOLD GIRLS of my past!

With the current celebration of the strong, confident, brave and intelligent women and girls through the BOLD GIRLS incentive driven by Childrens Books Ireland, I started thinking about the BOLD GIRLS in the literature of my own past.
Being completely enchanted by books from a very young age, I was given free range to chose and read whatever I liked. (Not every child has this opportunity and I am completely grateful to the grown-ups of my world for providing this.) Among my favourites, there were quite a few BOLD GIRLS.
Of course, there were the classics. Mary in The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, whose cross disposition I read (seemingly)in a completely different way to those around me; she just wanted a life that spoke of her own nature and not to have to 'behave as a young lady should' like she was being told. The books of Louisa May Alcott that spoke to me of following your own heart. Heidi and the freedom and happiness she found in the mountains...the list is quite comprehensive here. I was read these, and read them myself without being instructed as to what they meant in regard to being a girl. (This is very important when giving books to children...DON'T tell them what they are 'supposed' to glean from them. Children have their own minds, and very intelligent ones, at that. They may well come out of a story with a different understanding than you might imagine. Much better to listen to what children have to say.)
Beyond the classics, there were brilliant, wondrous girls emerging from books that fired my imagination and wonder. Not as many as there are today, and the history we were taught gave a glancing blow at best to the women who changed the world. But in the realms of fiction, here are a few that stuck with me...they made me laugh, they made me cry, they made me think and dream...
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans is, of course, one of the best loved characters of all time. I was immediately taken by her bold and determined attitude as she seemed to take on the world. Whatever she came up against, Madeline brushed herself off, stuck out her chin and got on with life (sometimes much to the amused frustration of Miss Clavel.)
First published in 1964, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh completely delighted me. Her pure fearlessness is inspiring.She was precocious and sneaky and utterly enthusiastic about her spy missions. She was also completely oblivious to the hurt they were causing those around her, initially. Even bold girls need to know when it's time to make amends. Regardless of her own embarrassment, Harriet steps up and makes things good again. Doesn't stop her spying, though...
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare was an amazing introduction to historical fiction for me, and to the incredible women and girls that lived there. Kits is an independent, rebellious, yet kind girl who comes from a place of privilege into a small Puritanical town to find herself accused of witchcraft. She still will risk everything, even her own safety, for those who need her.
Meg in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle is a character who still haunts my memories and my dreams. She is seen as a troublesome and stubborn girl, but capable of doing great things. When her scientist father disappears, Meg has no hesitation at the thought of stepping into the complete unknown to find him. In doing so, she finds herself on the journey of a lifetime... Also, A Wrinkle in Time is filled with female characters that are amazing, wild and wonderful.
I want to end with a very special book and an extraordinary character from my reading past. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell was published in 1960. It is based on the true story of a girl who was left on a small island off the coast of California and lived there alone for 18 years. Karana jumps ship to go back for her brother, stranded on a small island. As it turns out, he has been killed by a pack of feral dogs and Karana is left alone. She must now make a life for herself by taking on all the traditional male rolls in her tribe; hunting, fishing, building; in order to survive. Her journey is amazing and the story is spell-binding. One of the most 'telling' things about Island of the Blue Dolphins comes from O'Dell himself. When he sent the book to his publisher, they sent it back straight away, saying that if he was serious about the story he should change the main character to a boy, because girls were only interested in romance. O'Dell thought this was silly, so he went to another publisher who accepted it the next day.  Thank goodness!
I'm sure you all have BOLD GIRLS from your childhood book collection. So, tell me; what did you read?

Monday, January 29, 2018

2018 - THE YEAR OF THE BOLD GIRLS!

This year, 2018, is the year of the BOLD GIRLS! 
At Childrens' Books Ireland, a resolution was made to be bold and all across the country, those of us in the book world have resolved to join in.
On 8 March, we celebrate International Womens' Day worldwide. On this day, CBI will launch the BOLD GIRLS reading guide and campaign to mark one hundred years of womens' suffrage in Ireland and to celebrate the strong, magnificent and brave women and girls in childrens' books. Be it wonderful histories and biographies of those great women in times gone by or fictional female characters that defy social convention and the odds to bring a unique and exciting perspective, this guide will point you in the right direction.
We saw this literary movement truly emerging with GOOD NIGHT STORIES FOR REBEL GIRLS by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo; a wondrous collection of one page stories, each about a different woman from the past and present who has made an innovative contribution to history, science, the arts, human rights...and it's not just for girls! These stories will give each and every reader, regardless of gender or age, new and inspirational tales. Following this, we have had an amazing array of like-minded books highlighting women in science, women in sports, etc.
Just take a look at Siobhan Parkinsons' new ROCKING THE SYSTEM! Inside these covers you'll find twenty illustrated essays about those brave and bold Irish women who have defied social norms and changed Irish society in a variety of ways...and who continue to do so. With an introduction by Sabine Higgins, Irelands' First Lady and political activist, you will be enthralled with these womens' stories.
I'm sure you are all on social media sites. If you check out Facebook, Twitter and instagram, you will already see some posts honouring our current and fabulous BOLD GIRLS of the book world. Claire Hennessy, Judi Curtin, Jane Mitchell, Fatti Burke...and so many others will be sharing their BOLD GIRL status with the world up until the launch day! Check them all out!
And, when I come across a new book, fact or fiction for children of all ages that highlights the BOLD GIRLs incentive, it will be here for you all to see.
Go on, the BOLD GIRLS!
For more information, here's CBI's link:
http://childrensbooksireland.ie/boldgirls/

Monday, January 15, 2018

Hello! Happy New Book Year!

Hi everyone,
I've been away from the blog for a while. Apologies and thank you for continuing to check in with me while I had a bit of a hiatus.
Of course I have to open this New Year with pointing out the great childrens' new books that are coming your way. Some have already been released and are waiting for you at your favourite bookshop. (Hint: If you don't see them on the shelf, just ask a knowledgeable member of staff. They will be happy to order it for you. And there is generally no delivery charge, unlike most online services.)
Here's a taster of some of the books I am particularly excited about...coming soon to a bookshop near you.
LB and a taster of great 2018 releases

Friday, December 22, 2017

Fallen Stars' Best Books of the Year, part two

The teen and YA books can be difficult to chose. But here are some of my choices for these books from the enormous number of great books for older readers (and by 'older readers, I'm referring to 11years+) this year.
(Okay, there is a lot of discussion about what constitutes YA fiction and where you draw that line. Let's not discuss that at this time. I'm just going to say that, for our purposes here, YA books begin at age 14...depending on the reader.)
One of the best additions to this group came later this year with Sheena Wilkinsons' wonderful historical novel, Star By Star. Taking place in 1918, this book covers the end of World War 1, the flu pandemic sweeping the world and, most significantly the moment when women first had been given the right to vote. Though not lengthy, it has a great impact on the reader and is fascinating and inspirational.
Another high impact novel for 12+ is A Dangerous Crossing by Jane Mitchell. This is the extremely realistic and heart-rending story of one boys' flight from Syria. Mitchells' research into her subject was impeccable and it paid off in a story that shows great compassion and understanding of the lives and dangers young refugees face every day. The story-telling is amazing. This is a very important book that must be read!
Jess Butterworth burst on to the scene this year with an incredible tale of Tibet. Another story of fleeing oppression, Running On The Roof of the World tells the story of two children literally running for their lives across the Himalayas to India. Gripping and insightful, it is also very unusual in its' subject, with strong characters showing great courage and determination when facing (what seem to be) insurmountable odds. And what a journey!
Frances Hardinge is undeniably one of the best authors for young people working today. Her latest book, A Skinful of Shadows shows the extent of her skill at creating a unique world-view, keeping the reader glued to the page and, frankly, sending a chill up the spine that lasts for a long, long time. Taking place during the English Civil War, young Makepeace is fleeing a strange and unwanted inheritance while finding herself possessed of numerous spirits. Eerie, otherworldly and magnificent!
Dad's Red Dress by LJ Sedgewick is quirky, entertaining and funny. But it also takes the reader right to the heart of what it means to grow up. Filled with vivid characters and complex family drama, it is joyous, loving and unique among coming-of-age stories.It is simply wonderful.
Diving into those books that I would consider well-and-truly YA, I have nothing but praise for After the Fire by Will Hill. It grabs hold of the reader from page one and refuses to let go. With a vast number of themes running through the plot, This is an inquiry into faith, society, corruption, humanity and survival. The action is explosive. A sophisticated and tense read, this book is simply extraordinary. Speaking of simply extraordinary, I must insist you read Moonrise by Sarah Crossan. The beautiful lyrical verse novel is filled with genuine, tangible emotion, empathy and unanswered questions. Moonrise is powerful.
Release by Patrick Ness is an incredibly personal look at the uncertainties of coming-of-age. Beautifully and sometimes brutally honest, it examines family life and social constructs with N Exacting and often shocking eye without once dipping into sensationalism. There is a subtle background story that uses the supernatural/mythological to offer a possibility as to why things are they way they are and how life is played out; the things we feel, but cannot prove. And all the while, Release gives us a story that is genuine, emotional and all too familiar. (16+....but just, please read it.)
I want to finish with what is, ultimately, my book of the year 2017.
Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan/ illustrated by Karen Vaughn is a purely enchanting book retelling our most familiar fairy tales with a contemporary view, delving into the hearts and minds of the heroines. Beautiful to hold and to look at, it reminds the reader of what a collection of fairy tales is supposed be; of those volumes of old,calling to mind such books as those illustrated by Rackham or of Andrew Langs' collections. It promises much, and does not disappoint. Filled with intrigue, horror, strength and resilience, gentleness and love, it is not for the very young or the faint-hearted. It is for the bold, or those who want to be. Tangleweed and Brine takes us back to what fairy tales were always meant to do; to change with time and place and to lead us into deeper consideration of ourselves and the world around us. This book is a gift.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Fallen Stars' Best Books of the Year; part one



A week ago, I had the pleasure of being on Galway Bay FM radios' The Arts Show with Vinny Brown. Vinny (from Charlie Byrnes Bookshop, as well as the shows' host), Des Kenny (from the world-famous Kenny's Bookshop) and I spent the hour talking our 'best books' of the season and year...and we could have gone on for another hour!
Now, I thought I'd share my kids highlights from the show, as well as a few others I didn't get to say much about. Books are frequently left to the last minute when buying seasonal gifts, so perhaps this will help.
The first book I talked about is a beautiful book for everyone, young or old. The Lost Words written by Robert MacFarlane with extraordinary illustrations by Jackie Morris was written as a response to the removal of a number of words from the Oxford Childrens' Dictionary. It was claimed these words from the natural world no longer had relevance in childrens' lives.MacFarlanes' response is a series of poems based on these words, placed within Morris' illustrations create an atmospheric and moving book that gives us all much to ponder, enjoy and learn from.This should be in every house.
In the same segment, I also presented the wonderful poetry collection for children, A Sailor Went To Sea Sea Sea by Sarah Webb, illustrated by Steve McCarthy. Loaded with more favourite rhymes (as a follow-up to Sally Go Round The Stars), it also includes selections from Yeats and Joyce for young ones. With McCarthys' illustrations filling each page, this book is simply joyous.
And Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls was praised all the way around. Each page holds a story about an amazing woman from history, from ancient to contemporary times. I didn't get to mention Dara O'Briains' book, Beyond the Sky; an informative and fascinating book on the Universe for young people...and for you, too. You'll learn a lot and be inspired to learn more.
I had to talk a bit about my favourite picture books, and first on the list was The Presidents' Glasses by Peter Donnelly. I have to use the word joyous again, because that's what this book is; a joyous tale of Irish President Michael D Higgins, a forgotten pair of glasses and a pigeon hero. There's also
Franklin's Flying Bookshop by Jen Campbell, illustrated by Katie Harnett, a wonderful story of friendship, acceptance and books. And La La La by Kate DiCamillo, illustrations by Jaime Kim is a nearly wordless book about a lonely girl who simply wants to be heard.
Magically, it is the moon that responds. Exceptional fare from an author who simply cannot write a bad book...seriously, everything DiCamillo writes is absolute gold dust. But my picture book of the year has to be On A Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemanga. The story and the pictures are simply perfect.
 As we move into 'proper books', I want to give a couple of recommendations for younger, yet confident readers. King Coo by Adam Stower is wonderful, hilarious and filled with adventure...and a girl with a beard. It is a must-read! And it is with great happiness to let you all know that Laura James has brought back everyones' favourite canine for another adventure, Safari Pug. Just brilliant! A great surprise for me in this reading level was Toto the Ninja Cat and the Great Snake Escape by Dermot O'Leary...a rollicking adventure that will leave you laughing out loud.
Middle-Grade books occupy the largest share of book interest. Nine to 12 years has been called 'the Golden Age of Reading'..and rightly so. The quality keeps getting better and better. I've reviewed many of these on this blog, but now I'll mention the few I spoke about on the radio. I must recommend a beautiful and unique book, The Dollmaker of Krakow by R M Romero. A gripping story that combines historical fiction with old Polish folklore, this book is timeless and moving, with beautiful illustrations throughout that create something both very real and very surreal.
But, my MG book of the year has to be Letters From The Lighthouse by Emma Carroll. This is one that will stick you for a long time. A story of the World War 2 evacuations of children from London (to the Devon Coast, in this case) the kinder-transport, refugees and a cracking great mystery combine for a story that pushes the reader to further understanding while entertaining greatly. Just read it...you won't be sorry.

I need to mention Nevermoor: The Chronicles of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend for incredible fantasy. And also can't forget The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnsley...a wonderful fairy-tale like story with great characters and setting, haunting writing. Winner of the Newbery Award, don't miss it!

Tomorrow night, I'll continue with the teen and YA books...some incredible reads for the young people in your life that can be the most difficult to chose for...their tastes change, their comprehension increases and more complex books take precedence.
Good night for now!