The shortlists for the 2019 An Post Irish Book Awards have been announced. There are three categories specifically for books for youth. Here are the shortlists in those categories:
CHILDREN’S BOOK OF THE YEAR (JUNIOR)
123 Ireland! by Aoife Dooley
Boot: Small Robot, Big Adventure by Shane Hegarty, illustrated by Ben Mantle
Don’t Worry Little Crab by Chris Haughton
The President’s Surprise by Peter Donnelly
Take Five by Niall Breslin, illustrated by Sheena Dempsey
Tiny and Teeny by Chris Judge
CHILDREN’S BOOK OF THE YEAR SENIOR
Family Fun Unplugged by Peter Cosgrove
Gordon’s Game by Gordon D’Arcy and Paul Howard
Lily at Lissadell by Judi Curtin
The Lost Tide Warriors by Catherine Doyle
Shooting for the Stars: My Journey to Become Ireland’s First Astronaut by Norah Patten, illustrated by Jennifer Farley
A Strange Kind of Brave by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
TEEN/YOUNG ADULT BOOK OF THE YEAR
All the Bad Apples by Moira Fowley-Doyle
All the Invisible Things by Orlagh Collins
The M Word by Brian Conaghan
Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin
Perfectly Preventable Deaths by Deirdre Sullivan
Toffee by Sarah Crossan
The Best at It by Maulik Pancholy (9780062866417)
Rahul just wants to be the best at something, anything. But he’s skinny and the target of Brent, one of the biggest bullies at school. He’s also carrying the secret that he’s gay. Brent taunts Rahul into trying out for the football team, which ends up with Rahul not making the team and nursing a hurt ankle. Meanwhile, Brent has figured out Rahul’s secret when Rahul looks a bit too long at Justine in class. Rahul’s best friend Chelsea tries to get Rahul to understand how amazing he is, even if he’s not the best at something. As Rahul searches for his niche, he finds himself getting more anxious and his nightly rituals are less soothing. Whatever Rahul discovers about himself he also realizes that his Indian-American family and his friends will be there to cheer him on, no matter who he is.
Pancholy, an Indian-American actor, has written a compelling and heart-wrenching middle grade novel that deserves applause. He captures the angst of a kid who is different from the straight white kids in his school and who is trying desperately to fit in with them. Pancholy grapples in this book with many large themes, all of which fit with Rahul’s story. There is the bullying of LGBTQIA+ children at school. He addresses racism in casting and racism towards anyone brown-skinned or non-white. He takes these issues on directly, showing how standing up to bullies and racism is the best course of action.
Rahul is a great protagonist. He has support from an extended family as well as a best friend. It is a joy to see a middle grade book with a gay protagonist who is supported and loved by his family and friends. In fact, the book shows that sometimes it is the child who is torn up about coming out while their family and friends may have known for some time.
A great read from a multi-talented debut middle-grade author. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.