Books for children and young adults

Here are some great book ideas for children and young people from the Irish Independent

The best children’s books for all ages to enjoy over the summer break

Kids need to escape into a world of the imagination more than ever

Míp by Máire Zepf and Paddy Donnelly, published by Futa Fata

(Míp by Máire Zepf and Paddy Donnelly, published by Futa Fata)

Books are passports to other worlds. This summer, more than ever, children and young people need to escape into a world of the imagination – and there are plenty of great books that will help them do just that.

From new versions of much-loved classics, including Great Expectations, Jane Eyre and The Secret Garden, to rip-roaring adventure tales set in magical worlds, such as Orphans of the Tide and The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, there is something for every reader to get lost in over the next few weeks.

Happy summer reading!

Age up to 5


Avocado Asks: What Am I?  by Momoko Abe Orchard Books

Avocado Asks: What Am I? by Momoko Abe

Avocado Asks: What Am I? by Momoko Abe

Life is simple for Avocado in the fruit and vegetable aisle of the supermarket until a little girl asks: “Mum, is an avocado a fruit or a vegetable?” Avocado doesn’t know the answer. She asks around, and both the fruit and the vegetables disown her. Avocado leaves the aisle, feeling dreadfully alone until she meets Tomato, who has a much more inclusive way of looking at the world.

This is a sweet, funny debut picture book about difference, with clever use of dialogue, but it’s the illustrations that make it truly exceptional. Each spread is unique, there are lots of tiny details for little eyes to pour over, and Abe’s use of colour and texture is outstanding. In the use of strong shapes and the play with perspective, there’s a strong nod to classic picturebook makers of the 60s, such as Miroslav Šašek of the This Is series. Highly recommended. Age 4+

While We Can’t Hug

by Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar Faber and Faber ­Children’s Books

McLaughlin and Dunbar’s debut picture book together, The Hug, was shortlisted for the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards. In their new book, Hedgehog and Tortoise are best friends but they are not allowed to hug. So they find lots of different ways to show their love for each other – from sending letters to blowing kisses across “the gap”, a clever use of the gutter or the fold in the middle of a book. Delicate watercolour illustrations, full of expression, are teamed with a timely and charming story, making this a real winner. Age 3+

Bear Shaped

by Dawn Coulter-Cruttenden Oxford Children’s Books

Donegal writer and artist Dawn Coulter-Cruttenden has produced a charming and heartwarming picture book about loss and kindness. When a young boy called Jack loses his beloved toy, Bear, he is devastated. But when people from all over the world start to send him letters and new toy bears, he realises that he can help others by giving away the toys he receives and keeping his own toy in his heart. Inspired by a true story – the real Jack posed for the illustrations, and the gentle watercolour portraits are a good likeness – this is a gentle book for younger children. Age 3+

The Diddle That Dummed

by Kes Gray and Fred Blunt Hodder Children’s Books

If your youngster likes books with lots of wordplay and humour, this is the one for them, written by the author of the bestselling Oi Frog! and Oi Dog! series. Flinty Bo Diddle is writing a tune for his fiddle but one of his ‘diddle’ notes (pictured as a cheery blue fellow) keeps ruining things by going ‘dum’ instead. Flinty tries to reason with the note but the diddle that dummed is a trickster. Lively cartoon-style illustrations and a delightfully silly story make for a laugh-out-loud experience. Be warned, the ending involves toilet humour – which children will find hilarious. Age 4+

The Secret Garden

by Frances Hodgson ­Burnett, retold by Calista Brill, ­illustrated by Adelina Lirius HarperCollins Children’s Books

This classic tale, one of my favourites as a child, has been cleverly adapted for younger readers. Mary, “an unhappy little girl with an unhappy face”, arrives in Misselthwaite Manor, a house full of secrets including a neglected walled garden and a mysterious boy. But gradually, her unhappiness lifts and the house and garden’s secrets are revealed.

The transformation of both Mary and the garden are beautifully captured by Adelina Lirius’s exquisite illustrations. The sumptuous, rich colours remind me of medieval tapestries. A joyful introduction to this timeless story. Age 4+


by Máire Zepf and Paddy Donnelly Futa Fata

Míp the space robot is sent to Mars on an exploratory mission. What he finds there is out of this world. A delightful story in Irish with cracking illustrations and a wonderful visual twist towards the end, which eagle-eyed young readers will love. Age 4+

Say ­Goodbye… Say Hello

by Cori ­Doerrfeld Scallywag Press

“Every goodbye leads to a hello. Goodbye to long walks, butterflies and the sun is hello to long talks, fireflies and the stars.” So begins this simple yet profound picture book about change and new beginnings. Two girls share their lives and all its ups and downs – school, sports, losing a pet – but their greatest challenge lies ahead when moving day comes and they are separated. But even apart, they can still enjoy friendship. Doerrfeld captures all the exuberance of play and easy friendship in her expressive illustrations. A little gem. Age 4+

Age 5 to 8


Saving Winslow

by Sharon Creech, illustrated by Sarah Horne

Guppy Books

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech, illustrated by Sarah Horne

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech, illustrated by Sarah Horne

Sharon Creech has long been one of my favourite children’s writers for younger readers, along with fellow American Kate DiCamillo, and deserves to be better-known. Her novel in verse, Love That Dog, is an outstanding book about a boy who claims to hate poetry, and this new book doesn’t disappoint.

When 10-year-old Louie is given a sick baby donkey to look after, nobody believes the animal will survive. But Louie is determined to save the donkey he names Winslow, and with the help of the rather strange girl from his road, Nora, he nurses and loves the animal back to health. Slowly, Louie’s own loneliness – his older brother is in the army and he misses him dreadfully – begins to lift. A beautifully written, charming and honest story about kindness, loss and friendship. It would make the ideal read-aloud for a child who loves Charlotte’s Web. Age 8+

Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere

by Elise Gravel Walker Books

Olga loves animals. One day she discovers strange rainbow droppings that lead her to an equally strange creature she names ‘Meh’, after the noise he makes. As a scientist-in-training, she runs a series of experiments to work out what kind of animal Meh is and what he likes to eat. Sounds bonkers? It is. But it’s also original and hilarious, with outstanding cartoon-style illustrations, clever typography and eye-catching page design. Ideal for fans of Dogman and Captain Underpants, or for children who need a little more encouragement to read. Long live Olga. Age 7+

Take the Lead

by Elena Browne, illustrated by Jennifer Farley The O’Brien Press

From working out if you and your family are ready for a dog, to choosing the right breed, this attractive pocket-sized paperback is full of useful information for young dog owners. It covers all kinds of practical things from naming your dog, to the hows and whys of setting house rules for both dogs and humans, and it also includes lots of important and easy-to-follow training tips. The friendly-looking, colourful illustrations by award-winning illustrator Jennifer Farley add to the book’s appeal, and it comes with a recommendation from dog trainer and vet, Gillian Hick. Age 7+

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens, abridged by Liz Bankes, illustrated by Jack NoelEgmont

This book had me at the subtitle: ‘Graves! Grannies! Good times!’ Jack Noel has taken this classic tale and reimagined it for younger children with comic strips, lively illustrations, stylish typography and funny asides. I was a little apprehensive at first but a few pages in, it had me spellbound and laughing out loud.

It breathes new life into an old story – and what a story. Ten-year-old orphan Pip bumps into an escaped convict in a graveyard and then has to deal with the eccentric and creepy Miss Havisham, the elderly jilted bride. Bravo, Mr Noel, a triumph. Age 8+

Amazing Islands

by ­Sabrina Weiss and Kerry Hyndman  What on Earth Books

Children love learning new facts and this terrific book is stuffed full of carefully curated information about islands all over the world. I read it cover to cover before going back to linger over the stunning illustrations. From prison islands such as Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held for 30 years, to the abandoned ‘ghost island’ of Shengshan in China and small Caribbean islands or ‘cays’ where pirates used to hide in the 1700s, it combines short, well-written text with detailed and beautifully coloured maps, diagrams and illustrations. Highly recommended for fact-loving children. Age 7+

Fizzy and Bandit

by Sarah Crossan, illustrated by Nicola Colton Barrington Stoke

Former Laureate na nÓg Sarah Crossan’s first book for early readers is the sweet, funny tale of a girl called Fizzy Pop who longs for a dog of her own. When the wonderfully named next-door neighbour Mrs Crumbleboom – who loves baking and playing the drums – inherits her grown-up son’s dog, Fizzy has an idea. She decides to ‘help’ Mrs Crumbleboom look after the dog, with hilarious results. It is written with a light touch, and Nicola Colton’s exuberant illustrations make this tale truly ‘fizz’. Fizzy’s hair is a riotous orange ball and Mrs Crumbleboom’s lightning bolt T-shirt and slash of red lipstick are inspired. Age 6+

Age 9 to 12


Turtle Boy

by M Evan Wolkenstein Usborne Children’s Books (published in August)

Will is 12 and loves turtles. But life is not easy for him. His father died when he was four, his mother won’t talk about it and he has a facial deformity that needs corrective surgery but he’s terrified of hospitals. In school, he’s relentlessly teased about his different-looking chin. As part of his Bar Mitzvah community service, he is asked to visit a teenager in hospital, RJ, a young man with his own problems. Will decides to help RJ complete his bucket list, changing his own outlook on life forever.

A gripping and genuinely moving coming-of-age story, with some interesting insight into Jewish traditions, it charts the ups and downs of true lasting friendship. It is written with honesty and heart and with a surprising amount of humour, and I loved every page of this emotional roller coaster of a book. Perfect for fans of Wonder. Age 11+

Orphans of the Tide

by Struan Murray, illustrated by Manuel Šumberac Puffin

Ellie is a brave and clever young inventor who lives in ‘The City’, a world perched on the edge of the sea. One morning, a whale is discovered stranded on a rooftop. Inside the whale (Ellie cuts him out) is a young boy, believed to be the ‘Enemy’ – a reincarnation of the god who drowned their city – but Ellie knows better and is determined to save his life.

A beautifully written fantasy adventure with prose that is both muscular and musical, and outstanding world building – every scene is full of atmosphere and mystery. Ideal for fans of Philip Reeve and Dave Rudden. Age 11+

School for Nobodies

by Susie Bower Pushkin Children’s Books

Written in the first person, this accomplished book clips along at a lively pace from the very first sentence: “I’m going to tell you a secret. Until the day of my tenth birthday, I had no name of my own.” Ten-year-old Flynn’s early life is full of mysteries: she’s always had vivid dreams about the circus and has a scar that reaches from eye to chin. She’s packed off to a boarding school for misfits by her cold and indifferent adoptive parents, kicking off a rip-roaring adventure featuring a lost twin, circus tricks and shape-shifting. Age 9+

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency

by L D Lapinski

Orion Children’s Books

Going on a summer holiday? Don’t forget to pack this wonderfully funny and original debut novel. Written with confidence and swagger, it’s the story of Flick Hudson, who receives an invitation to join the Strangeworlds Society. As a member, she can visit hundreds of different worlds – from enchanted forests to wild jungles – just by stepping into a suitcase. However, Five Lights, the world at the centre of all the worlds, is in jeopardy. Can Flick help save it? Young readers who love fast-paced stories with lots of adventure, imagination and magic will love this. Age 9+

The Promise Witch

by Celine Kiernan

Walker Books

Celine Kiernan’s Wild Magic books are much loved by readers who like fantasy stories with a dark, witchy twist. In this instalment, book three in the trilogy, brave young witch Mup returns, along with best friend Crow, who still speaks in rhyme.

Danger is all around in Witches Borough. Mup’s evil grandmother, the old Queen expelled from the castle in book one, is still lurking, and Magda, a “raggedy witch” storms into Mup’s world demanding that Mup fulfil a promise. Start with the first book, Begone the Raggedy Witches and lose yourself in this exciting, beautifully written trilogy. Age 10+

Nat Enough

by Maria Scrivan  Scholastic

Nat Enough by Maria Scrivan

Nat Enough by Maria Scrivan

I’m a huge fan of graphic novels and always recommend them to youngsters who need a little encouragement to read. I’m always on the lookout for new ones to share, and this story about a girl who has never felt that’s she’s enough is just the ticket. Natalie’s best friend has started to ignore her. Should she change to fit in and be ‘cooler’ like her old friend or just be herself? A funny, heart-warming tale about school, peer pressure and friendship. Age 10+

I’d also highly recommend Smile by Raina Telgemeier and Cub by Cynthia L Copeland

Teen and YA (Young Adults)


A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll  Knights Of

Addie is clever, loves reading and is fascinated by sharks. When she learns at school that witches were put to death in her small village in Scotland in the past, she is determined that their lives be commemorated with a plaque. But the county council is not convinced.

They see Addie as strange and different because she is autistic. But Addie is strong and determined, and with her sisters’ help (twins, one of whom is also autistic) she learns how to stand up to bullies of all ages and how to win people over by being herself.

What a marvellous book: powerful and moving, written with heart and passion. I loved every word. Experiencing the world through Addie’s eyes was both heartbreaking and eye-opening. Elle McNicoll’s characters are so real they leap off the page, and her prose is crisp and fresh. I cannot recommend this book highly enough — everyone should read it. Age 12+


by Patrick Ness Walker Books

You can always rely on Patrick Ness to surprise you, and this beautifully written urban fantasy doesn’t disappoint. Set in a small town called Frome in Washington in 1957, it features dragons, a dragon-worshipping cult called the ‘Believers’, deadly assassins, FBI agents and smart teenagers.

When Sarah Dewhurst’s father hires a small blue ‘Russian’ dragon called Kazimir to work on their farm, it kicks off a chain of extraordinary events. With multiple narrators and a complex, highly original plot, this is an immersive, rewarding read for older teens and adults. Age 15+


Almost American Girl

by Robin Ha Balzer and Bray/HarperCollins

This compelling graphic novel about the migrant experience and creating a home in a new culture opens in South Korea in 1995. Fourteen-year-old Chuna and her mother visit a friend in Alabama, but soon Chuna finds out that her mother intends to marry her Korean-American friend. They will be staying in the US permanently.

Chuna renames herself Robin and tries to understand the language and fit in at her new school, but it’s not easy. Everything is so different; she misses her friends and her Korean comics. But gradually things start to change. Fantastic artwork and a heartfelt, honest story. Age 13+

The Falling in Love ­Montage

by Ciara Smyth Andersen Press

A charming and funny debut YA novel from a new Belfast-based talent. Seventeen-year-old Saoirse is cynical about romance and would like to forget all her worries by kissing girls. Life is complicated: her mother has dementia and is in care, her father is planning to remarry, and she can’t wait to head off to university in the autumn.

Then Ruby walks into her life and sets Saoirse a challenge: a summer romance without the heartache, just like in the movies. Written with a light touch, lots of humour and dollops of heart, this is the perfect summer read. Age 15+

Clap When You Land  by Elizabeth Acevedo Hot Key Books

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Narrated by two different 16-year-olds, this novel in free verse is beautifully written and packs an emotional punch. Carmino loves when her father visits the Dominican Republic to see her. But when she arrives at the airport to meet him, she realises something terrible has happened.

In New York City, Yahaira finds out her father has been killed in a plane crash. Two sisters who have never met. Both grieving, both angry, can they ever forgive him for keeping such a devastating secret? Inspired by a real plane crash in 2001, this is a rich, compelling read. Age 15+

Sarah Webb is an award-winning children’s writer and creative writing teacher. Her new book with Alan Nolan, ‘Animal Crackers’, will be published by the O’Brien Press in August.

Also out this ­summer:

Skulduggery Pleasant: Seasons of War by Derek Landy (HarperCollins) The latest book in one of the best fantasy adventure series around. Cracking dialogue and humour. Age 11+

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)

Revisit the world of Panem 64 years before the events of The Hunger Games. Age 11+

Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran (The O’Brien Press)

Brilliant Irish YA about a young queen who falls for her female spymaster. Age 15+

The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff (Bloomsbury)

A dreamy, atmospheric tale about love, sibling rivalry and family secrets. Age 15+

Inside Knowledge:

Age 9+

Award-winning children’s writer Onjali Q Rauf, author of The Boy at the Back of the Class, recommends books for age 9+

So many books, so much gorgeous time to read them in! Every July, there is one trilogy I automatically reach out for, every year, without fail, and that is JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. No matter what your age or what the weather outside may be, sitting down with Frodo and Sam to battle The One Ring is utterly joyous, and I get genuinely excited every time summer rolls around again so that I can relive the journey once more.

Next, it has to be a classic of my childhood and one that seems to have been written for reading in the garden – The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The stubbornness of Mary Lennox and the creepiness of Misselthwaite Manor with its echoing cries and locked-up gardens gives me chills and thrills, and never fails to leave me feeling grateful for the seasons we have.

Then it’s straight on to the genius that is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. This may seem a strange choice for a summer read, especially given the seriousness of the issues it deals with, but following Scout around under the hot summer skies of Alabama as she watches the work and heeds the wisdom of her father Atticus Finch truly makes me feel as if I’ve travelled a thousand miles and lifetimes, albeit for a more serious kind of holiday.

For a whole flurry of more lighter-hearted summer adventures, nothing quite beats Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series – I used to gobble them up as a child and wished I could join the crew and Timothy on their adventures.

And finally, the icing on my summer cake has to be Roald Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World. After all, nothing says ‘summer’ quite like an adventure which involves millions of raisins, piles of sleeping powder and a forest full of pheasants!

Age 4 to 8

Elaina Ryan, chief executive of Children’s Books Ireland on her favourite books for children age 4 to 8

Kiki and Bobo’s Sunny Day by Yasmeen Ismail is a delightful lift-the-flap book featuring outgoing Kiki the cat, who is determined to swim in the sea, and her nervous friend Bobo the dog, who is afraid to go in. Kiki’s warmth, empathy and patience make for a beautiful friendship, and Ismail’s illustrations depict big emotions perfectly. Plenty of flaps conceal surprises for small hands to discover.

In Claude at the Beach, our canine protagonist and his best friend Sir Bobblysock take a day trip that includes bribing a shark, accidentally winning a sandcastle-building competition and joining a pirate crew. There are more than a few nods to comic seaside postcards in Alex T Smith’s jolly illustrations, and the sartorial details are a delight.

Another seaside beauty is Madame Badobedah by Sophie Dahl and Lauren O’Hara. Dahl’s writing is word-perfect: a unique, original story with the feel of an immediate classic. Mabel lives in The Mermaid Hotel and when her family welcomes a glamorous new guest, she uses all her detective skills to figure out who Madame Badobedah really is. Some breathtaking spreads bring Mabel’s imagination to life in subtle watercolours with bright accents and an abundance of charming detail.

Bí ag Spraoi Liom could be the story of any working parent during lockdown: Lúna’s mam doesn’t have time to play while she works at home. After finding childhood pictures of Mamaí, Lúna takes it upon herself to build a time machine so that she can go back and find ‘Mamaí Beag’ to play with instead. Sadhbh Devlin perfectly captures a parent-child relationship with all its guilt and disappointment, and Tarsila Krüse’s playful illustrations and bright colour palette make the story’s resolution all the more vibrant.

Island of Adventures: Fun Things to Do All Around Ireland by Jennifer Farley covers haunted houses to whale-watching, with a nod to our native wildlife and lots of fun facts, illustrated throughout in vibrant and varied colour. Whether this summer holds a road trip or not, we can all have a vicarious holiday with this brilliant book in hand.

Summer Activities

Trish Hennessy, owner of Halfway Up The Stairs children’s bookshop in Greystones, Co Wicklow, makes her recommendations for activities over the break

The Kitchen Science Cookbook by Dr Michelle Dickinson is a wonderful book for curious minds. It contains all sorts of exciting science activities including edible experiments (for example a confectionery candle and edible earthworms), sound experiments including musical straws and motion experiments like a whirlpool in a bottle. It makes science accessible and fascinating for children. Age 8+ with parental supervision

The Usborne Unhurry Book, illustrated by Freya Harrison, is an ideal book for these times – it encourages children to take a little time to breathe, focus and be calm. It includes breathing exercises, doodling, origami and puzzles. The Unworry Book is another in the series that helps children work through their worries with activities. Age 8+

Be an Irish Explorer by Bex Shelford is the perfect book for our staycations this summer. You can explore each county with activities, for example drawing statues in Powerscourt House and designing a poster for a surf contest in Lahinch. Age 7+

Write On by Wee Society is a wonderful interactive journal that helps children write their own stories, with fun ideas for plots and characters. Age 7+

Finally, The Usborne Fingerprint Activities book is a firm favourite of parents as it allows kids to get creative with paints without the mess. The paint pads are incorporated into the book and all you need to do when they have finished decorating the page is clean their hands. Age 4+

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  • Many people, both children and adults, love to read stories. Reading stories is a good way to pass the time. More so, stories are also great sources of life lessons, especially for children. Heartwarming stories, particularly, are what many readers usually search for. These are the kinds of stories that can evoke various emotions among the readers. They can make them laugh, cry, and reflect. These stories tend to have a lasting impact on people.

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    • chloe 18th May 2023   Reply →

      Many thanks for this.


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