Speaking at the announcement, Elaina Ryan, CEO of Children’s Books Ireland said: “This is the only Irish awards dedicated to celebrating books created for children and it’s the biggest year we’ve had yet! Between July 2023 and January 2024, the judging panel read a record 158 titles from Irish-born or Ireland-based writers and illustrators.”
The shortlisted titles, which includes five début writers and three current or former laureates for children, will compete for six awards at the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards ceremony, held 22nd May in partnership with the International Literature Festival Dublin. These include the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year Award, as well as honours for fiction, illustration and the Junior Juries’ Award which will be decided by young readers across the island of Ireland.
This year’s shortlist includes:
- April’s Garden, an inventive, colourful début picturebook exploring a mother and daughter’s search for a new home, written by Isla McGuckin and illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (Graffeg).
- Catfish Rolling, a début teenage novel situated between modern-day Japan in the wake of a deadly earthquake and a magical dimension rich in mythological notes, by Clara Kumagai (Zephyr).
- Global, a graphic novel spotlighting the interconnectedness of our world and the impact of the climate crisis. This is the second book in the series from writers Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, and illustrator Giovanni Rigano (Hodder Children’s Books).
- My Life as a Chameleon, a poignant début novel which follows sixteen-year-old Lily as she finds herself in an upheaval that takes her from Nigeria and Manchester, written by Diana Anyakwo (Zephyr).
- The First Move, a teenage romance which follows the budding relationship of chess-loving Ronan and Juliet in contemporary Northern Ireland. This is the début novel by Jenny Ireland (Penguin Random House).
- The Girl Who Fell to Earth, a science fiction novel set in contemporary Dublin which explores the concerns of our time through the eyes of a new visitor to earth, by the current Laureate na nÓg, Patricia Forde (Little Island Books).
- The Hare-Shaped Hole, a gentle story about loss and acceptance which draws on familiar characters from the tale of the turtle and the hare, by author John Dougherty and illustrator Thomas Docherty (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books).
- Three Tasks for a Dragon, an evocative tale which follows unlikely hero Prince Lir and not-so-helpless maiden Cethlenn, by two former laureates for children, author Eoin Colfer and illustrator P.J. Lynch (Walker Books).
- Treacle Town, a gritty teenage novel set in Scotland which explores toxic masculinity, gangland violence, social deprivation and the power of slam poetry, by author Brian Conaghan (Anderson Press).
- Wider Than the Sea, a lyrical, uplifting novel about a spirited young girl who struggles at school and finds solace through an unlikely friendship with a dolphin named Sunny. This début novel by Serena Molly features dyslexic-friendly blank verse with illustrations by George Ermos (Hodder Children’s Books).
The 2024 Awards mark the fifth year of KPMG’s sponsorship. Johnny Hanna, Partner in Charge KPMG Belfast said it’s a great source of pride to support the awards: “Ireland has such a wealth of great writing and illustration talent for readers of all ages. This year’s Junior Jurors will have their work cut out for them but what an enjoyable task it will be!”
The KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards and Junior Juries programme are supported by the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland National Lottery Funding.
Damian Smyth, joint Head of Literature and Drama at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said:
“These awards recognise some of the most outstanding books of the last year – the picturebooks, stories and novels that have captured the hearts and imaginations of young readers. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland offer our congratulations to all those who have made this year’s shortlist.”
About the shortlisted titles:
April’s Garden written by Isla McGuckin and illustrated by Catalina Echeverri published by Graffeg
April’s Garden is a brilliantly inventive picturebook about a young girl, April, and her mother as they navigate the uncertainties of finding a home. When April plants some seeds in plastic cups in the hope of creating a garden of her own, things slowly begin to improve. This is a heartwarming story from a début writer that broaches a difficult topic with younger readers in a tender and understated way. Echeverri’s quirky, original illustrations and varied colour palette capture the essence of April’s emotions on each page, moving gradually from darker tones to brighter and more hopeful ones. A rich and beautiful story that deploys interesting use of metaphor and symbolism – there is something new to discover in April’s Garden every time you read it.
Catfish Rolling by Clara Kumagai published by Zephyr
Catfish Rolling is a wonderfully original and unusual début story by Irish Canadian Japanese author Clara Kumagai. The reader is plunged into a haunting, atmospheric universe in the wake of a deadly earthquake in Japan that takes away seventeen-year-old Sora’s mother and fractures time itself. Japanese legend is blended seamlessly with modern-day predicaments in this multilayered and philosophical book. Narrated from the perspective of Sora, the book transports the reader to another world that is both nostalgic and futuristic. Kumagai sweeps the reader along with the power and authenticity of her writing and the beauty of the catfish motif, which grounds it in a timeless, mythical dimension. Her characters are fully rounded and memorable. In addition to the central story, important themes on the ethics of scientific study, exploitation and capitalism are interwoven with tender, convincing portraits of friendship, loyalty and coming of age, set in a wholly contemporary and recognisable Japan.
Global written by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin and illustrated by Giovanni Rigano published by Hodder Children’s Books
From the team that brought us the award-winning Illegal comes another wonderful graphic novel about compelling issues of our time. Global is an exceptional and accessible story about the devastating effects of climate change experienced by a girl and a boy living in very different parts of the world. Both the well-paced narrative and the beautifully executed illustrations immerse the reader in these interwoven stories. Global is an important and timely book that reflects on the future of our planet, our interconnectedness and how climate change affects us all, no matter where we live.
My Life as a Chameleon by Diana Anyakwo published by Atom Books
My Life as a Chameleon is an authentic and at times harrowing account of a young girl and her life between 1984 and 1990. It captures the lived experience of Lily’s life in Manchester and her childhood in Nigeria. It is a challenging but also compelling, absorbing read that deals with sixteen-year-old Lily’s family life, mental health issues, bullying and attempts to find her identity, despite having to adapt to a variety of new schools and new cultures. Anyakwo captures the rage and confusion experienced by Lily, the tribalism of life in Nigeria and also, in another way, Manchester. She handles delicate material with great sensitivity and confidence. My Life as a Chameleon is raw and poignant, yet ultimately conveys a hopeful message about overcoming adversity. It is a gripping read and a brilliantly assured début.
The First Move by Jenny Ireland published by Penguin Random House
The First Move is an impressive début young adult novel by author Jenny Ireland. Set in contemporary Northern Ireland, this engaging, romantic story sweeps the reader away into a world of online chess, teenage love and friendships but also deals sensitively with topics of disability, drug addiction, bereavement and grief. The development of the relationship between chess-loving protagonists Ronan and Juliet (less ill-fated than their Shakespearean counterparts) is paced well through alternating narrative perspectives. This is a hugely enjoyable and richly satisfying read, with strong plotlines and convincing characters.
The Girl Who Fell to Earth by Patricia Forde published by Little Island Books
Ireland’s current Laureate na n-Óg, Patricia Forde, immerses the reader from the outset in this unusual and gripping science-fiction novel. Arya, the teen protagonist who arrives on Earth from the planet Terros, is a credible and lovable character who ends up revising everything she had learned about humans and planet Earth. The plot may seem complex, but Forde’s skillful world-building and story-telling expertise really make it work. Set largely in contemporary Dublin, it addresses some of the current concerns of our time and will resonate with young Irish readers. A great story that is relevant and ultimately optimistic, and hard to put down once you start reading it.
The Hare-Shaped Hole written by John Dougherty and illustrated by Thomas Docherty published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Bertle the turtle and his best friend, Hertle the hare, did everything together, but suddenly one day Hertle is gone and all that is left is a hare-shaped hole in the air. This is a sensitive, poignant and gentle story about loss and acceptance. Young children will appreciate the sumptuous, colourful illustrations and read-aloud rhyming text. One of its many strengths is that the story is open to interpretation and could be about grief, loss or change of any kind. This is a book that sticks with you. Elegant and beautiful, The Hare-Shaped Hole is destined to be a modern classic.
Three Tasks for a Dragon written by Eoin Colfer and illustrated by P.J. Lynch, published by Walker Books
Three Tasks for a Dragon combines a pitch-perfect narrative with beautiful, intricate illustrations by two former laureates of Irish children’s literature. The balance between traditional Irish legend and timelessness is brilliantly executed in this exciting story, which sees the unlikely hero Prince Lir embark on a dangerous quest to rescue Cethlenn, a not-so-helpless maiden, from the lair of the fearsome (and wonderfully illustrated) dragon Lasvarg. The many twists and turns in this exceptional and evocative tale will leave readers of all ages wishing for more.
Treacle Town by Brian Conaghan published by Andersen Press
Brian Conaghan’s novel is an intense, gritty story for young adults set in Scotland. Protagonist Con O’Neill and his close-knit circle of friends are caught up in a seemingly never-ending cycle of toxic masculinity, deadly gangland violence and social deprivation in a tough working-class area near Glasgow – a so-called Treacle Town that ensnares its inhabitants and drags them down. Con’s introduction to slam poetry provides him with the means to improve his life and leaves the reader with a feeling of hope. The language, raw and authentic, interspersed with beautifully crafted slam poems, makes for an absorbing read. This is an uncompromising, at times heartbreaking but ultimately rewarding story that takes the reader on a remarkable journey.
Wider Than the Sea written by Serena Molloy and illustrated by George Ermos published by Hodder Children’s Books
Wider Than the Sea, by début author Serena Molloy, is a magical, uplifting novel for older child readers. Written in blank verse and evocatively illustrated by George Ermos in black and white, this lyrical, dyslexia-friendly story recounts how a spirited young girl called Ró struggles at school but finds solace in the healing power of nature. Her friendship with the dolphin Sunny is beautifully evoked. This is a powerful and moving book about inclusivity, self-belief and the importance of friendship that is sure to inspire empathy and understanding in its readers.