Reading is one of life’s great pleasures. Whether you pick up a book to increase your knowledge or simply for entertainment, 2014 has provided a great selection to capture your imagination and curiosity, some of which are written by talented authors based right here in West Cork.
Reading to your child and teaching them to read at an early age has multiple benefits including improved literacy, language and wellbeing. Former TV presenter Mary Kingston, from West Cork, has entertained a generation of Irish children on Scratch Saturday and the Disney Club. A mother of two young children, Mary recommends her top books for children under 10.
My children Fionn and Síofra are now nine and seven years old. They both love books and reading: browsing in bookshops is one of our shared joys. I read to them most nights. A very wise woman told me years ago that we should read to our children up to the age of 10…this is long after they are able to read to themselves, because a bedtime story is NOT because your children cannot read. You read a bedtime story because it’s a time to bond at the end of the day and instill a love of books. So for 30 minutes most nights, the three of us lie on my bed and I spend about 30 minutes reading aloud. This time creates a Happy association with books and bedtime! Has this worked? Fionn and Síofra eat their way through their novels, I have to call up the stairs after 10pm to tell them, “Time is up, no more reading!” Reading, writing or illustrating their own stories, is their last activity every night.
At the moment, we are on the Harry Potter Series. Such is our love of these books, that our brand new four-month old ginger kitten is called Hermione!
1. The Harry Potter Series. The first three books in the series are suitable for under-10. I’m reading them aloud at night and Fionn is reading them all again independently.
2. ‘Mr Gum’ by Andy Stanton. This series is hilarious and clever. Both my children have read the entire series ‘twice’! It was the first series of novels they read independently.
3. ‘My Cat is Ignoring Me!’ by Peter Wedderburn. I include a mention of this book because it is so important that children read about something that ‘they’ are interested in. Our new ginger Kitten, Hermione has lead Síofra to many books including about over 30 Holly Webb’s Novels telling us stories of lost, stray and sick kittens. For Síofra, age seven, any book with a cat or kitten is on her shelf.
4. ‘A Little Guide to Wild Flowers’ by Charlotte Voake. While walking through West Cork or South Dublin or Wexford we keep this wonderful little book in the car to spot and sketch flowers. It’s a great way to turn a walk into an adventure. This is the book ‘we’ have, but any book about wild flowers of Ireland is a great addition to the Glove Compartment!
5. ‘A History of Ireland in 100 Objects’ by Finton O Toole. I cannot recommend this book enough! We seemed to live all last winter in the IMMA, National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street and Collins Barracks ticking off the 100 objects as we went.
(Finally, for the younger children, ‘I love you, Blue Kangaroo’ by Emma Chichester Clark is a gorgeous little picture book for very small children at Christmas. I defy anyone to read it aloud to a child under five without misty eyes!)
Young Adult Fiction
Recently described by actor Gabriel Byrne as “Disturbing, provocative…I was utterly captivated from beginning to end.” — Clonakilty author Louise O’Neill’s debut novel ‘Only Ever Yours’ has been named as one of the best Young Adult novels of 2014 by the Telegraph paper in the UK. Louise gives us some of her book recommendations for young adults.
1. ‘The Apple Tart of Hope’ by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald. A moving and poignant story about Meg and Oscar, this book outlines the effect bullying can have on young adults, but ultimately about how friendship can be redemptive.
2. ‘Bone Jack’ by Sara Crowe. Ash’s father has returned from war, damaged in ways he can barely articulate and very far from the hero that Ash had expected. This powerful modern fantasy is beautifully written and impossible to forget.
3. ‘Anna and the French Kiss’, ‘Lola and the Boy Next Door’ and ‘Isla and the Happily Ever After’. The books in this trilogy by Stephanie Perkins are fun, wistful, and very engaging, and would make an excellent present for a slightly younger teenager reader.
4. ‘The Dark Wild’ by Piers Torday. The follow up to Torday’s critically acclaimed “The Last Wild”, this book is equally as brilliant as the first. It is a thrilling, epic adventure story, with incredibly vivid characters.
5. ‘All the Bright Places’ by Jennifer Niven. This isn’t due to be published until January but I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy and it’s one of the best novels I’ve read this year. Drawing comparisons to John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, this is a stunning and heartbreaking book, and definitely one to watch out for.
West Cork People columnist and author Tina Pisco has worked as a professional writer for over twenty-five years. Tina teaches creative writing throughout the country and has also worked as an editorial consultant and reader for a number of literary prizes. Tina has published two best-selling novels that have been translated into five languages ‘Only a Paper Moon’ and ‘Catch the Magpie’. Tina names her top five books for adults this Christmas.
1. ‘The Bone Clocks’ by David Mitchell: OK, I’ll admit I’m biased. Not only is David Mitchell one of my favorite authors — he lives in West Cork and is totally lovely. His new novel is a real treat. Those who found his previous novels a difficult read (Cloud Atlas, Ghostwritten, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet) should give ‘The Bone Clocks’ a try. It’s by far his most accessible novel with critics comparing it to more mainstream writers like Stephen King (I’d say it reminds me of the best of Neil Gaiman). No spoilers, but it also has the added bonus of a post-apocalyptic West Cork in 2043.
2. ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton: This is a whopper of a book (834 pages in hardback!), but well worth the read. Set in a gold rush town in New Zealand in 1866, it is a rollicking adventure that left me pining for more when I finished it. Catton probably won the 2013 Man Booker because of its clever and complex literary structure, but don’t let this put you off. The characters, setting and incredible story, will keep you glued till the end, regardless of whether you notice it’s masterful construction.
3. ‘The Ocean at the end of the Lane’ by Neil Gaiman: I’m a big fan of Gaiman and was delighted by this small gem (181 pages). Gaiman is a master of weaving the magical and the mundane into an enchanting narrative, and this is perhaps his most carefully crafted novel. It is also his most personal. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home for a funeral. The house is gone, but the lane that leads down to a farm is still there, along with the extraordinary women who inhabit it. Forgotten memories are stirred and awaken, taking the man back to when he was a seven-year-old boy in dire need of protection.
4. ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt: Every once in a while a book comes along that takes my breath away. Tartt’s ‘The Secret Society’ was one of them, published back in the early 90s. The Goldfinch tops even that masterful novel. Another whopper (774 pages). A 13-year-old survives a bomb attack in NYC, which kills his mother. The novel follows his life from orphan to adult, with many twists and turns, unforgettable characters and settings, heartbreak and delight in equal measure.
5. ‘City of Bohane’ by Kevin Barry: I am a big fan of future dystopias and this novel is among the best I’ve ever read. I first came across Kevin Barry in 2008 at the West Cork Literary Festival where he was reading from his first short story collection. Since then he has taken off like a literary comet, picking up the Rooney Prize, Sunday Times Short Story Prize and the 2013 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. City of Bohane is set forty years from now on the west coast of Ireland where tribal gangs rule the slums. Bleak, yet full of humour, The Montreal Gazette wrote: “If Roddy Doyle and Nick Cave could procreate, the result would be something like Kevin Barry.”