The winners of the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland awards have been announced. The awards “identify, honour and promote excellence in books for young people by Irish authors and illustrators.” They are the most prestigious children’s book awards in Ireland. Here are the winners:
JUNIOR JURIES’ AWARD (most popular book from the youth juries)
The grandson and grandpa from Usher’s Seasons series return with the first in a new series. One of the birds outside was sick, so the boy and his Granddad made a cozy bed for it and read a book of bird facts. After having some water, the little bird was feeling better and they put him back outside. Now it was time for breakfast and they made pancakes together. The bird returned for a breakfast of berries. At lunch, they built triple-decker sandwiches and the bird returned again. They took him back outside to help him find his friends. At tea time, the bird returned again and they did some more research. Now it was time for them to help the little bird return to the tree he needed, so they set off to reach the top of the mountain. Happily, the bird’s many friends were there to greet him and shared their midnight feast with the humans too.
Usher blends the mundane and the imaginative into a seamless story that glides from the normal happening of finding a sick bird and steadily becomes something magical and wondrous. I loved Usher’s first book series and am so pleased to see him return with another series with these charming characters, the boy with big ideas, the grandfather who grounds him and the magic that takes over both their lives at times. The writing is simple and lovely. The focus on meals here is a treat that will have readers wanting to make their own pancakes, triple-deckers and tea.
The art is a delightful mix of smaller illustrations on white backgrounds and full-page illustrations that show the garden at Granddad’s house. There is an endearing quality to the images that show the beautiful relationship of the grandfather and grandson.
A joy to see beloved characters return. Make sure to have tea and snacks on hand when you share this one. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Dear Treefrog by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Diana Sudyka (9780358064763)
When a girl moves to a new home, she hides in the garden and discovers a treefrog there. When she watches how still the frog is, she slows down too. Looking closely at the frog, she notices his sticky toes and long feet. Iin order to find the frog, she has to take deep breaths and look closely. The frog helps her feel less lonely. He hides when a group of kids visits, something that the girl is thankful for since they were loud and trampled the garden. When a storm blows through, the frog not only survives it but is refreshed by the water. Heading to school, the girl curls up like a frog on her yoga mat. That’s when she meets a classmate who is quiet too, someone she can trust to show the treefrog, another friend.
Told in a series of poems, this picture book is a stellar mix of verse, exploring nature, and treefrog information. The verse is from the little girl’s perspective and readers get to know her quiet well as she is worried at first about the move, finds solace in the treefrog in her garden, and eventually is brave enough to make a new friend who is thoughtful too and wants to spend time outside watching. The treefrog facts are offered in the corner of the page, supported by each poem and celebrating the unique elements of this creature.
The illustrations by Sudyka are lush and full of green. They show a wild garden by the house with plants taller than the girl herself. The frog is there for readers to know on the first pages. The garden frames the girl and frog with plants and greenery, offering them an almost tropical paradise in which to form their friendship.
Fantastic froggy friendship and facts. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
America is our country, but does it love everyone? Does it love people of different colors from the outside in? Does it love us no matter what language we speak? Does it love our various histories, from all over the world and across the nation? Does it love the way we worship? Does it love the sound of our voices, when we whisper and when we shout? Does it love children who stand up and stand out? What will it take for our nation to love all of us equally?
Voiced in the first person, this picture book takes an interesting approach to racism and bias in America. It shows how our nation itself doesn’t love equally. The words may be simple, but they are profound and deep as well. They point out how children of color must change themselves to fit in, not call attention to themselves. It firmly places the responsibility on our nation itself, rather than on the children to change. The text is laced with Creole and Spanish, showing exactly how language itself can be a barrier and an opportunity.
The illustrations are powerful, beginning with the American flag with the Pledge of Allegiance on it. The illustrations are painted using a color palette of gray, red, white and blue that sings at times of power and patriotism while other times the shadows gather using mostly gray.
A call for change around racism and bias in our nation. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.
Fifteen-year-old Morgan has a plan. She just needs to survive high school and then she can leave her small island and become the real person she keeps secret from everyone. She has a group of friends, but she’s different from them. Her family has fallen apart with her father leaving, her mother sad and her little brother raging. Morgan is about to have another huge secret to keep. When Morgan meets Keltie, she rediscovers someone she met as a child. With a kiss, Morgan allows Keltie to take on a human form and leave her seal form behind. The two become close friends, but Morgan is worried about people seeing them touching or together at all. Keltie though has something she hasn’t told Morgan either. As the secrets pile up, Morgan has to see if she has the courage to live as the person she truly is before it’s too late.
From the author of The Witch Boy trilogy comes this magical sea breeze of a graphic novel that is just right for summer beach reading. The twist on a traditional selkie tale is lovingly created, offering moments of real connection, beauty and pain. Morgan is closeted and pretending to be everything she is not. It’s great to see that as she moves into her truth, she becomes better connected with her family as she shares things with them. The setting of the novel is a large part of the story with the seaside, the island and the seal nursery just offshore.
The illustrations show that setting with detail, inviting readers down to the beaches, out to the seals, deep underwater, and onto the rocks. They are drenched in summer sun, tantalizing moonlight, and the blue greens of the sea.
Beautiful, aching and full of LGBTQIA magical fantasy romance. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
When the Big Bad Wolf came to the little girl’s house, he didn’t have to huff and puff at all. He was invited in by her mother. At first, he was nice to her mother but his eyes were always cold when he looked at the girl. When her mother was late coming home one day, he got mad and called her bad names. Her mother became quiet and smaller. The girl became silent and made sure to be tidy. The wolf threw things and didn’t apologize. Instead the mother and daughter apologized and cleaned it all up. The wolf would howl and create bruises. The little girl made a house of straw with blankets on her bed to protect her. She hoped the wood door would keep him out. Then she built bricks around her heart. Finally, one day, her mother told her to pack her bag and they fled to a home for women and children where the little girl could finally sleep in safety.
This frank and stark book is a French Canadian import. The use of the Big Bad Wolf image in the book clearly marks the wolf in the house as a bad person from the first page. Further into the book, the little girl tries to build protection around herself with different elements, turning at last to bricks around her heart. This is a particularly moving part of the story, as her defenses are not respected, just as her mother’s are not. The book does end in a hopeful place, as they leave to restart their lives without the wolf there.
The illustrations show the angry encounters, but not the physical assaults. The bruises on the little girl’s arm are shown as she explains that she has to wear long sleeves even when it’s hot out. The palette in the book is pale greens and dusty tans. The illustrations show the fear and the trauma of living with an abuser.
An important book that explains abuse to children in a way that shows the abuser in the “bad” wolf in the situation. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
In a world of war, Peace Pilgrim changed her name and decided to walk 25,000 in the name of peace. She gave up her possessions, her fancy dresses and shoes. She prepared for years, learning about foraging in the wild, practicing good deeds for neighbors, and volunteering for peace groups. She began her walk on New Year’s Day leaving Pasadena, California in simple sneakers and a blue shirt that said Peace Pilgrim. She carried only possessions that fit in her pockets. On her journey, she stopped and talked with everyone. Soon she was asked to speak with school groups and then with other organizations. She relied on strangers for food and would accept a place to sleep too, though she loved to sleep outside under the stars. She crossed from California to New York, but that was just her first pilgrimage. She kept on walking, heading for her 25,000 mile total. Even after she reached that milestone, she kept on walking for peace.
I am so pleased to have a picture book written about Peace Pilgrim. I was one of the lucky people who got to hear her speak at a tiny gathering in central Wisconsin. My family hosted her, driving her to our rural home and sharing time with her. It’s an experience I hold in my heart and continue to be inspired by. This picture book captures her spirit beautifully and shows how one person can make a difference simply by speaking out and walking forth.
The art is compelling, showing the long routes that Peace Pilgrim took, the signature blue apron she wore, and the connections she formed wherever she went. She is truly a national treasure, someone we can all look towards for inspiration on a life well spent in service to peace.
A book that shows that heroes come in all forms. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Wishes by Muon Thi Van, illustrated by Victo Ngai (9781338305890)
This picture book achingly captures the refugee experience in simple words. Throughout the book, the entire world wishes that it could do more to support the fleeing people. The night wishes it was quieter. When the family says goodbye to grandparents, the clock wishes it were slower. As they board the small boat, the boat wishes it were bigger. The storm rages over them and wishes it were calmer. The sun beats down, wishing it were cooler. Eventually, their small boat is met by rescuers in a large vessel and they are taken on board. So the little girl doesn’t have to wish any more.
It’s incredible what Van has managed to do in so few words in this book. One can feel, reading each page, the ache of loss even while there is a potential of a better life just beyond all of the dangers. The emotions are raw on the pages, the profound sadness felt deeply and the entire world trying to give these people a new chance. The author is a refugee whose family fled Vietnam and spent a month at sea. That experience resonates in the simple words that are imbued with a deep empathy and understanding.
Ngai’s illustrations are haunting and beautiful. They show the humanness of refugees, the little girl regularly making eye contact with the reader, her face filled in turn with sadness, dread and relief. The illustrations create moving moments, when the sun fills the page with its searing heat or the first glimpse of rescue is in sight.
An incredible feat of storytelling and art. Appropriate for ages 4-7.