Children's book are a gift that keep on giving so here's some suggestions for this Christmas

Books still make the perfect present for children of any age. With the very young, they can also act as a bonding experience with parents, says Helen O’Callaghan.

Sarah Crossan

AT age six, Sarah Crossan’s daughter, Aoife, is “really getting excited” about books.

Crossan’s own books include The Weight of Water and her latest novel for teens, Moonrise.

She is Ireland’s fifth Laureate na nÓg (Children’s Literature Laureate) and gets Aoife books for every occasion, from Valentine’s Day to Halloween.

“Santa brings her books and puts notes with them.”

Crossan, who lived in Dublin until she was six when the family moved to the UK, did not grow up surrounded by books, but her mum brought her to the library and by the time she was 12 she was passionate about reading.

“If a child loves to read, every part of the curriculum is easier to access,” she says, adding that for her own girl, she sees books as necessities in the same way as eating five-a-day of fruit and vegetables.

For parents and children, reading together is about “connection and finding space” to be quiet together.

“It’s a way of expressing my love to Aoife. There’s no music on, no phone in the room. There’s nothing to distract, just the characters, the story. She has my undivided attention for 20 minutes or half an hour — nothing can replace that.”

Crossan models reading for pleasure for her daughter. “I say ‘you can do some art or you can read’. And she’ll often say ‘oh, I’ll read with you’. And we’ll sit on the couch with tea, apple juice, and some biscuits. I want her to see me reading my books for pleasure.

“Parents might see this as another obligation and not see the nourishment in it. When I do it, my stress levels go down. For me, it’s as close to meditation that you can get without meditating. I’m in the present moment, not worrying about what I said or what I have to do.”

The gift of a book endures, believes Crossan.

“A toy is out of the box and they play with it for three days. The book is on the shelf until probably they leave home, so it’s for their whole life. My aunt brought me a book of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales when I was in hospital as a child — I went back to it again and again. Books like these never sell on eBay or get given to charity shops.”

A book also has aesthetic appeal, even more so if beautifully illustrated or if it’s a hardcover edition. “You’re giving an art object,” says Crossan, who encourages

giving children the books they’re interested in, which aren’t always synonymous with the worthy choices of parents.

Sarah Crossan’s theme as laureate is #WeAreThePoets.

More information at

Christmas book gift ideas for children

Recommended by Children’s Books Ireland and the Laureate Project:

I Say Ooh, You Say Ahh, John Kane, Templar Publishing, €9.80

The first page of John Kane’s debut picture-book tells readers there’s something very important they have to remember. When the narrator says ‘Ooh’, they must say ‘Ahh’. This simple principle of read-and-respond underpins an inventive story and gloriously interactive reading experience. (0-4)

The President’s Cat, Peter Donnelly, Gill Books, €14.99

Peter Donnelly’s unnamed but very recognisable Irish president is back — and he’s left the family cat behind after the summer holidays. How will the feline make its way back to the Áras? This fun road trip reads like an ad for sunny Ireland, with stopovers in major sites and typical landscapes. (2-4)

Ruby’s Worry, Tom Percival, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, €9.80

A special book that explores what it means to suffer from anxiety and how it might be managed more easily. With gorgeous illustrations and careful, beautiful words, it’s a must buy for any child who worries or panics a bit more than they’d like. And for the child who doesn’t, a pre-emptive strike can’t hurt! (2-4)

The Dog Who Lost His Bark, Eoin Colfer, illustrated by PJ Lynch, Walker Books, €10.49

Uplifting story with great humour and heart, about a young boy who longs for his own dog. With his dad away for the summer, his desperation’s even greater. Meanwhile, Oz has had a hard life and he longs for his very own boy to look after him. Together they help one another to heal — heart-warming and enchanting story. (7+)

Dr Hibernica Finch’s Compelling Compendium Of Irish Animals, Rob Maguire, illustrated by Aga Grandowicz, Little Island Books, €20

Large-format information book profiling Irish animals of land, sea, and air. Readers are guided by a slightly eccentric zoologist narrator who has travelled Ireland’s length and breadth, studying its animal inhabitants. Spreads are presented in style of her notebooks and field notes, complete with jokes, facts, and sketches. (7+)

Bumpfizzle The Best On Planet Earth, Patricia Forde, illustrated by Elina Braslina, Little Island Books, €9

It’s not easy being the middle child, especially if you’re an alien disguised as a child sent to understand these silly humans, but Bumpfizzle is Planet Plonk’s bravest warrior. With hilariously disgusting illustrations from Elina Braslina, Bumpfizzle’s the story of a disgruntled alien that readers will adore. (9-11)

Begone The Raggedy Witches, Celine Kiernan, Walker Books, €9.80

Mup’s having a bad night. Her beloved aunty has died and a coven of witches has nabbed her father. This means a bizarre quest for Mup to find him in an enchanted otherworld where crows talk in rhyme and magic is banned. The headstrong Mup is a winsome guide through the earthy, faintly pagan Witches Borough. The prose holds a potent spookiness that will enchant readers beyond the last page. (9-11)

Bright Sparks: Amazing Discoveries, Inventions And Designs By Women, Owen O’Doherty, The O’Brien Press, €14.99

Comprehensive list of ideas developed, invented, or created by women. From paper bags to pedal bins, from disposable nappies to DNA, our lives have been enhanced and made safer because of these women’s work. Refreshing approach to showing how everyday items — computers, hospital treatments — came to be created. (9-11)

The Great Irish Weather Book, Joanna Donnelly, illustrated by Fuchsia MacAree, Gill Books, €19.99

In Ireland, a tiny country with lots of weather, the weather’s exactly what we like to talk about. So it makes sense for us to learn about it. From cold fronts to climate changes, anti-cyclones to isobars, this book has everything you need to understand the weather that affects our everyday lives. (9-11)

Flying Tips For Flightless Birds, Kelly McCaughrain, Walker Books, €11.20

Multi-layered tale, funny and moving, set against backdrop of a struggling circus school run by Birdie and Finch Franconi’s family. Big issues of acceptance, friendship, and family are all explored with clarity, humour, and lots of heart beneath Franconi’s exhilarating Big Top. (12–14)

Spare And Found Parts, Sarah Maria Griffin, Titan Books, €12.60

A post-apocalyptic Dublin is deftly conjured by Sarah Maria Griffin in this inspired take on the Frankenstein narrative. Teenaged Nell struggles to find purpose and inspiration in her life, overshadowed by the genius of her inventor father and artistic mother, whose death still haunts the Crane household. Lyrical, moving, and beautifully written. (Young adult)

Long Way Down, Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Chris Priestley, Faber & Faber, €11.20

This powerful verse novel takes a compelling look at gun violence in the US through the story of Will, whose older brother has just been shot and killed. This novel will attract teenagers who don’t consider themselves ‘readers’. (Young adult)

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