Christmas books for all ages – give the gift of reading

Posted on: 10th December, 2019

Category: Arts & Entertainment

Contributor: West Cork People

It’s that time of year again when the daily deliveries of heavy boxes are frequent and our bookshelves are brimming with new titles! Heidi, who has worked in Kerr’s Bookshop in Clonakilty for many years, has chosen and reviewed some wonderful books for our younger readers, and this is what she has to say!

Very young readers
(or listeners!)

We have a wide variety of lovely, interesting books for our younger readers in the shop already. Top of the list for the very young readers (or listeners!) is The Dinky Donkey, the follow-on from last year’s run-away success – The Wonky Donkey. It is a hilarious, laugh-out-loud tongue twister with gorgeous illustrations and is sure to be a great hit with the younger children.

Another lovely story is The President’s Surprise by Peter Donnelly, a thoroughly Irish tale about the run up to the President’s birthday party in the Áras an Uachtaráin. It is another beautifully illustrated children’s book with a fun twist at the end. 

Early school-goers

Our pick for early school-goers is Isadora Moon Puts on a Show, the newest addition to a very popular series about Isadora the vampire fairy. This time, Isadora’s bravery gets tested as she has to compete in a talent show with the other vampire children at the Vampire Ball.  It is an ideal choice for readers who want their magic and sparkle with a bit of bite!

Six and up

Hubert Horatio – How to Raise your Grown-Ups is a whimsical and hilarious story from Lauren Child, the creator of the hugely successful Charlie and Lola series. Hubert is an exceptionally intelligent, talented and sensible child, but unfortunately this tends to mean that a lot of his spare time is spent steering his rather unruly set of grown-ups out of trouble! This funny and gloriously illustrated book is perfect for ages six and up.

Eight and up

For the slightly older children the hugely popular Dog Man series and Diary of Wimpy Kid series both have new titles in time for Christmas; For Whom the Ball Rolls and Wrecking Ball respectively. Though both books appeal to all ages, they are funny and illustrated which makes them a perfect fit for children who are not such confident readers. 

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a new book from number one bestselling author David Walliams; his brand-new publication is The Beast of Buckingham Palace. It is an epic adventure set in London 2120, of myth and legend, good and evil, and one small boy who must save the world. 

The Fowl Twins is an epic adventure from Eoin Colfer, perfect for fans of the Artemis Fowl series which is soon to be released at the cinema. Myles and Beckett are Artemis’ 11-year-old but wildly different twin brothers. With plenty of goofiness and humour paired with realistically evil villains, this is a vibrant sequel to the Artemis Fowl series and a great choice for action obsessed pre-teens.

For confident readers under twelve (but suitable for older children too!) we have an amazing new book from author Chris Colfer, bestselling author of The Land of Stories series. Tale of Magic is the first in an all-new series filled with adventure, imagination, and magic. Though a prequel to the Land of Stories, readers do not need to be familiar with characters in the first series. Based on the glittering reviews, it promises to be a captivating read with positive messages entwined throughout the story.

Teens and young adults

For the teens and young adults there is also a wide variety of new titles in store. For younger teens who prefers contemporary fiction over fantasy and dystopia, A Strange Kind of Brave by Irish writer Sarah Moore Fitzgerald is a safe bet. It is a gripping tale of friendship, betrayal, love, loss, revenge and obsession, with an incredible twist at the end. The fifth novel from one of our favourite authors is a real page turner!

The second volume in Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust series; The Secret Commonwealth is a winner for teens (and adults) who read His Dark Materials trilogy. Lyra is now 20-years-old, and she and her daemon Pan are forced to navigate their relationship in a way they could never have imagined. It is truly a book for our times; a powerful adventure and a thought-provoking look at what it is to understand yourself, to grow up and make sense of the world around you. This is storytelling at its very best from one of our greatest writers. And for fantasy lovers who never read the original trilogy, it is never too late to start!

Other Words for Smoke by Irish writer Sarah Maria Griffin just won the Dept 51@Eason Teen/Young Adult Book of the Year 2019, and well deservedly so. The book follows the story of a set of lonesome twins trying to navigate growing up, their witchy aunt and her equally eerie house of mysteries and her teenage protegee who is trying to get a grip on that world of power and magic. It is a coming of age story and one that contains lust, betrayal, magic and witchcraft, matched with enthralling writing. 

For readers who are tired of magic and fantasy tales, we suggest the Theodore Boone series by John Grisham. Half-boy, half-lawyer, thirteen-year-old Theodore proves that you don’t have to have super powers to be a real hero. The latest book in the series, The Accomplice, shows yet again that Grisham is able to write legal thrillers for readers of all ages. It is perfect for fans of Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series.

Toffee is this years’ winner of the Books Are My Bag YA Award and the astonishing new novel from the multi-award-winning and Laureate na nOg Sarah Crossan. It is a heart-warming read about run-away Allison and elderly Marla, two lonely, isolated people who somehow find friendship and comfort in each other.  It is a powerful novel written in verse form, and a stunning exploration of identity, mental health and friendship. 

A light seasonal, but perfect book for a cold winter’s night for fans of The Fault in Their Stars, The Sun is Also a Star and Eleanor and Park, is Let is Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle. Touching, hilarious and filled with festive cheer, the magic of the holiday season shines on these three interconnected tales of love, romance and breath-taking kisses. 

Gift book favourites

Finally, we have chosen three gift books as our favourites to complement our selections above. These are The Wonders of Nature, by Ben Hoare, Prisoners of Geography – Our World Explained in 12 Simple Maps, by Tim Marshall, and Dare to Dream – Irish People Who Took on the World (and Won!) by Sarah Webb. Do pop into the Bookshop and see these, as all are beautifully illustrated books to treasure in any family.

West Cork People columnist and author Tina Pisco has worked as a professional writer for over 25 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 bestselling novels that have been translated into five languages ‘Only a Paper Moon’ and ‘Catch the Magpie’. Tina names her top books for adults this Christmas.

Perhaps one of the most hotly anticipated sequels of all time (certainly by this reader!), Margaret Attwood’s The Testaments takes place 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale. The first book has been a bestseller since it was first published in 1985. It has been translated into 25 languages and has sold over eight million copies. The recent television series has brought the dystopian world of Gilead to an even larger audience.

The Testaments does not disappoint, and can be read whether you have read the first book, watched the TV series, or have done neither – though I think that it will be most enjoyed by those following the series on television as is fills out some of the narratives developed in this year’s season. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll just say that it is written in three parts, each with a different narrator. One is Aunt Lydia, the two others are young women: one who has grown up in Gilead, and the other who has grown up across the border in Canada. I’ll say no more!

The Handmaid’s Tale was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1986. The Testaments was a joint winner in 2019.

I have a fondness for dystopias, especially those set in the not-too-distant future (see above). John Lancaster’s The Wall is one of the finest examples of that genre that I have read this year. At just under 300 pages, it is not a long book, yet it manages to touch on so many of the most pertinent issues in our world today: climate change, borders, refugees and Brexit.

Set in a near future Britain, The Wall tells the story of a young conscript who, like all young people, is spending two years patrolling the 10,000km of concrete wall, which encloses the entire coastline and was built to defend the UK from ‘Others’ after an unnamed, but clearly catastrophic climatic event called ‘The Change’. “It’s cold on the Wall. That’s the first thing everybody tells you when you are sent there, and the thing you think about all the time you’re on it, and it’s the thing you remember when you’re not there anymore. It’s cold on the Wall.”

This extrapolation of many of our present-day fears is both gripping and fun. Lancaster manages to imbue a horrific situation with real humanity. A page-turner of a book.

Another favorite genre of mine is fantasy, and few do it all well as Philip Pullman. If Attwood’s book was the most anticipated sequel, then Pullman’s new trilogy The Book of Dust is certainly one of the most anticipated prequel/sequel (the author calls it an equel).

Pullman’s His Dark Materials, an epic trilogy published between 1995 and 2000 became an instant classic. The books followed the adventures of Lyra, a young girl, as she wanders through various parallel worlds meeting an incredible cast of characters, and confronting incredible challenges with courage and cunning.

The Book of Dust is also in three parts. The first book La Belle Sauvage was published last year and is set twelve years before His Dark Materials when Lyra is a baby and a great flood covers the world that she lives in. If anything, it was even more exciting than His Dark Materials. Few novels have had me more on the edge of my seat, scared for the characters’ fate, as this lovely story of young children faced with impossible odds.

This year saw the publication of the second book in the new trilogy: The Secret Commonwealth. This one is set ten years after His Dark Materials’ and is a rollicking adventure, that sees Lyra, now a young woman, set out on a quest which takes her from the quiet comfort of academia to the wilds of a parallel Central Asia. As with all of Pullman’s novels, the settings and characters are rich and vivid, both familiar and exotic. The story itself is another nail-biting narrative that ends too soon – especially since the third and final book still has no publication date. (To make up for it, you could read all five books in sequence and hope that Pullman will have finished the final chapter by the time you get through them!).

Gossip from the Forest, Sara Maitland’s delightful exploration of forests and our relationship to them is neither a recent publication nor a bestseller, but definitely one of the books that I enjoyed the most this year. I was lucky enough to participate in a workshop with Maitland run by the Munster Literature Centre during this year’s Short Story Festival, and picked up her book along the way.

Published in 2012, Gossip from the Forest is like a slow walk with a friend through a beautiful, sometimes magical landscape. Maitland maintains that forests – or rather woodlands – are the natural habitat of humans in Western Europe and have informed our culture, our myths, and more importantly, our fairy tales. Maitland journeys through different forests, month by month, telling the tales and the history, describing the landscapes and the people in exquisite detail. Her prose is never lofty, yet always beautiful, and I found myself often stopping to reread a sentence, just to savour it. In between the twelve journeys through different forests (one for each month of the year), Maitland reimagines some of our most cherished fairytales, giving insightful twists to childhood favorites such as Hansel and Gretel, or Rapunzel.

Gossip from the Forest is a lovely book for anyone who loves the forest, or fairytales. It is also the sort of book that one should have at hand, to occasionally pick up and open at a random page, knowing it will always delight.

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