We are lucky in the British Isles to have a thriving children’s publishing industry. So plentiful is the annual trawl for award-winning children’s titles published in the UK, that we may forget to look across the sea to Ireland. The O’Brien Press, based in Dublin, has been producing excellent books for children for over forty years, and yet they have not had the recognition in the UK that they deserve.
I remember the year that Eoin Colfer published his first Artemis Fowl novel. It was amazing; greeted with delight by readers, young and old. But where had this author been hiding before he was snapped up by a multi-national media company? The answer, of course, was at The O’Brien Press, where The Wish List and Benny and Omar had already been published. The Reading Association of Ireland had acknowledged the contribution of The O’Brien Press to children’s publishing back in 1997 when a Special Merit Award was presented to a publisher, Michael O’Brien, rather than to a book. The citation read “for exceptional care, skill and professionalism in publishing, resulting in a consistently high standard in all of the children’s books published” (see The O’Brien website for more about award winners).
I’ve been lucky to receive a few of O’Brien’s books when they have been submitted to the UK Literacy Association (UKLA) Book Awards. These are the only awards chosen exclusively by teachers from across the school age range. This year, in particular, I was aware of receiving some very engaging books from O’Brien, feeling that I would welcome any of them in school. Competition to get into the list of final contenders for the UKLA awards is very strong; none of these titles made it, but they do warrant a mention to readers unfamiliar with O’Brien’s children’s books.
The Moon Spun Round: W.B. Yeats for Children, edited by Noreen Doody and illustrated by Shona Shirley Macdonald, is a sumptuously produced collection of Yeats’ poetry. There are poems to read aloud or to be enjoyed silently by individuals. There is artwork to be admired and discussed. I can imagine the scene in my primary classroom before sharing this book. ‘Shut your eyes children and listen to these magical words. What pictures come into your mind? Let’s draw our pictures before we look at what the illustrator saw in her mind’s eye.’
Time after Time by Judi Curtain. I am not surprised that this author has been published across the globe. It is the sort of writing that some readers (possibly mostly girls) will find difficult to put down.
Lastly, two stories based on historical fact: The Making of Mollie by Anna Carey, about the suffragette movement, and Kings of the Boyne by Nicola Pierce. It is possible that, in the past, we have too easily accepted one-sided versions of disputes between the nations of the British Isles.
The Kings of the Boyne reminds us that we share a history. Understanding the truth of the past requires the voices of both sides to be heard.
Try these and other books published by The O’Brien Press. Whatever you choose, happy reading!
This guest blog was provided by Prue Goodwin. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.