All Shining in the Spring: The Story of a Baby Who Died by Siobhán Parkinson

“Miscarriage, stillbirth and the death of a baby are not topics people like to discuss, and most people are especially reluctant to talk to small children about such sad events. But children can be as much affected by these things as their parents…” Siobhán Parkinson

ALL SHINING IN THE SPRING: The Story of a Baby Who Died

author: Siobhán Parkinson

illustrator: Donald Teskey

Little Island Books (3 April 2021)

ISBN: 9781912417575

Matthew lives with his Mummy and Daddy and his beautiful cat, Jack. And now, they have happy news….a new baby will be born in their family. When they told Matthew, he was so excited. He’s really looking forward to being a big brother, asking loads of questions and planning all the things he will do with the new baby. But suddenly one day, something very sad happened. Their baby wasn’t growing properly…it won’t be strong enough to live when its’ born. Matthew cried a lot; and Mummy cried and Daddy cried and Grandma and Grandpa cried…everyone was sad. And Matthew really didn’t understand how this could happen to a baby. When the baby was born; a baby boy they named Daniel; it wasn’t a happy day. It was a day to say goodbye. In time, they won’t feel quite as sad all the time. They will still cry from time to time and sometimes it will help them feel better. And when the bright yellow flowers shine up at them in the spring…they will remember.

This is such a beautiful book, written in simple, clear language to help young children through such a difficult time. It gives voice to all the confusion and heartbreak that happens with the loss of a baby from a childs’ perspective and really expresses an acceptance and healing that families need at the time. Throughout the pages, eloquent ink and wash illustrations echo the tone and give a moment to pause and absorb the emotion behind the words. It is so very important to find a way to talk to young children about the death of a baby and give words to their grief; to help them come to terms. Yes, this is a sad book, but it is also a book that gives great comfort and reassurance and not just to young children. Anyone who has experienced the loss of a baby; who is experiencing the loss of a baby with find solace in its’ pages.

Originally published in 1995 (by The O’Brien Press), this very special, very moving book is based on the authors’ own true story of loss. It may have happened a long time ago, but this is a story that happens to families everywhere, all the time. And when it happened in Siobháns’ family, she needed to find a way to talk about it to her young son. She went looking for a book to help, but a book couldn’t be found. So she wrote one. It became her first published book, intended to reach out to children and families who experience the loss of a baby.

All Shining in the Spring: The Story of a Baby who Died

Farewell, “Ramona Quimby”- R.I.P. Beverly Cleary 12 April 1916-25 March 2021

World-renowned childrens’ author, Beverly Cleary has passed away at the age of 104. HarperCollins, her publisher for decades announced her death occurred on Thursday in northern California, where the Oregon native lived since the 1960s. But she has left behind a treasury of some of the most memorable, best-loved books that haunt the shelves of generations of readers.

Cleary trained as a librarian and didn’t begin her writing career until she was in her 30s. Her first book, Henry Huggins was published in 1950 to enormous success as we followed Henrys’ life and adventures with his neighbours, Ellen Tebbits, Otis Spofford, “Beezus” Quimby and of course, her little sister, the famous Ramona. Based on her childhood in Portland, Oregon, here were real children doing real things that children do. And while all the books and characters won the hearts of readers everywhere, there was one that stood out among all the rest. Ramona Quimby.

Between 1955 and 1999, there were eight young novels featuring the implacable Ramona, beginning with Beezus and Ramona. She was the little sister that just wouldn’t come second. Bold, adventurous, somewhat naughty and utterly lovable, Ramona quickly became recognised as a possible mirror-image of the author, but Cleary adamantly denied it. Perhaps an alter-ego?

I grew up with Clearys’ wonderful books, as I’m sure many of you did as well. These were the books I read over and over, under the covers at night with a torch, curled up in a corner of the library, up in the branches of my favourite climbing tree. I read bits of them to friends, classmates, the cat…. Ramona encouraged me to be that little bit braver and bolder; to be a bit more confident, even when I wasn’t feeling it at all. I felt like I had a real friend in Ramona and that her friends and family were mine. There is a certain part of my childhood that became defined by these books and I am certain they caused adjustments in my world view. Clearys’ writing just spoke so eloquently with a voice directly from a childs’ perspective. And while they may be older; classics now; there is still something about them that is timeless.

Her books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. There have been films and TV shows based on both Henry Huggins and Beezus and Ramona across the globe. Beverly Cleary was one of those quietly, perhaps unexpected influences on many childrens’ authors. And though she hung up her pen years ago and lived a good, long life, her passing is met with more than a degree of sorrow.

Goodbye, Beverly Cleary. Sleep well. Thank you so, so much for all you gave us.

A Childs’ Experience: Molly and the Lockdown by Malachy Doyle and Andrew Whitson

Molly and the Lockdown by Malachy Doyle, illustrated by Andrew Whitson

Happy Book Birthday to Molly and the Lockdown! I am always ridiculously excited when a new book in the Molly picturebook series arrives on the scene (as you probably know by now). In what is now a full year of dealing with social distancing, restrictions and an abundance of caution, Molly and the Lockdown brings us comfort, common sense and joy. It is most timely.


author: Malachy Doyle

illustrator: Andrew Whitson

Graffeg Ltd. (25 March 2021)

ISBN: 9781914079399

Word reaches Mollys’ small island of a new, frightening illness that is spreading all over the world! To stop it from reaching them, no one is allowed on or off the island. But Mollys’ lovely dad is on the mainland selling fish and can’t get back home. Molly helps her mum, just like her dad told her. But old Mary Kate falls ill and has to go to hospital. And even though they’ve all been very careful, the virus reaches the island. Now, Molly has even more to do! She does the washing and cleaning, takes care of the chickens and ducks. She gets on with her school work and practicing the fiddle. Molly even makes masks for the islanders while her mum is out with Nurse Ellen. And eventually in time….a long, long time…things do get better and the lockdown eases. And her lovely dad returns.

Last year, when all this started, Graffeg, Ltd, Malachy Doyle and Andrew Whitson brought out a downloadable story/colouring book, Molly and the Shutdown. (And may I say, I had great fun colouring!) Off the back of that, with a more complete view of a full years’ circumstances, Molly and the Lockdown offers a unique guide to her experience of this strange and uncertain time with great comfort. The story is simple, straight-forward and speaks to us all; the difficulties of coping with restrictions, the worry of being apart from loved ones and the determination to get through to the other side. It offers us a Molly-type resilience, as she helps in whatever way she can and finding happiness in her days.

The illustrations gorgeously mark each page, detailing this new rhythm of life Molly finds herself having to live, with lively, vibrant colour and, page after page, perfect facial expressions that display the feelings of the moment with pinpoint accuracy. I particularly love the illustration of Molly making masks surrounded by her ducks. The concentration and satisfaction on her little face is so genuine! There is a quiet determination, with a ribbon of gentle humour running throughout. It’s a wonderful story filled with care and empathy, focusing on the positive while acknowledging simple frustrations; like the joy of being able to see friends again, “even if they still had to keep a little distance from each other.” Or when the vaccine is introduced to the island, and no one likes a big needle in their arm, but it will be worth it, right?

And finally, there is a sense of relief and even celebration. A lockdown hug in a book; hopeful, helpful, happy, reassuring and simply lovely. I know I feel much better.

Each of the Molly books (Molly and the Stormy Sea, Molly and the Whale, Molly and the Lighthouse, Molly and the Lockdown) gives genuine, heartfelt voice to this young girls’ world and how she views it on her small island. But they also give a glimpse, a childs’ eye view of the wider world from which we can all benefit and interpret from our own “small islands,” whether we are big people or little.

I want to express my thanks to Graffeg, Ltd for sending along the review copy of Molly and the Lockdown; and to Malachy Doyle and Andrew Whitson for creating a character and an island that speaks so poignantly to my heart.

Spring with Fletcher and the Caterpillar by Julia Rawlinson and Tiphanie Beeke

Spring is here! The flowers are starting to bloom, the birds are twittering away, the days are getting brighter and warmer…and a new Fletcher’s Four Seasons book has just sprung out to the shelves. The Fletcher books bring the loveliness of the seasons and friendship with them, so they have become a very special event to look forward to in my house. And it seems Fletcher has a new little friend with him, this time.


author: Julia Rawlinson

illustrator: Tiphanie Beeke

Graffeg Ltd. (23 March 2021)

ISBN: 9781913733933

Wandering through the woods in springtime, Fletcher notices the trees stretching towards the sun and flower buds swelling with their petals peeking out. Everything is getting greener and growing bigger…except for one little leaf. One little leaf seems to be getting smaller. As Fletcher creeps closer and peaks under the leaf, he spies a tiny, stripey caterpillar. Fletcher is delighted….a brand new friend to play with! But what kind of games does Caterpillar like to play? Fletcher takes Caterpillar to meet some of his friends and see what ideas they have, but all Caterpillar really wants to do is munch and munch and munch that leaf…until something strange begins to happen. While Fletcher is worried, Mum assures him that, if he is patient, Caterpillar may have a wonderful surprise for him.

Once again, lyrical, flowing storytelling weaves a quietly alive adventure of caring and friendship, and evoking a warm sense of a magical, natural world. Fletcher is easily relatable, with his eyes wide open to the all that surrounds him. The tenderness and care he shows all of nature, ie: while minding Caterpillar as they travel around together is genuinely heart-warming. Curiosity leads him as he tries to make sense of the shifts and changes in his world. His easy, natural compassion sometimes lets those worries creep in, especially when he can’t quite grasp the chain of events, such as Caterpillar munching constantly, getting bigger and bigger and, eventually becoming a “little green blob.” In short, Fletcher is a typical young child and we can easily see this. And the delight as he wanders about just getting on with his explorations, offers us a return to that particular type of childhood joy and wonder.

Light, alive with colour and texture, glorious detail and nuance, the illustrations create a movement through the story that frees it to sing with the springtime days. The colour palette is carefully chosen to allow us to understand the changing light of the day, the encroachment of the evening and the lovely depth of night in the ever-changing natural world. The facial expressions and movements evident in all the different animals adeptly show their characters, personalities and are awash with feelings with just a few strokes. It’s all just so beautiful; so delightful.

These books have won a firm place on my shelf and in my heart. Fletcher and the Caterpillar is an absolute joy; just perfect for sharing at home or in the classroom. Like all the Fletcher books, it encourages and inspires exploration of the outside world and hints at the possible wonders to be found there. And it has the added bonus of taking us somewhere else, somewhere wonderful, at a time when we have all had to stay where we are.

Thank you to Graffeg Ltd for sharing this magical picturebook with me. And for inviting me to the online book launch. Happy Book Birthday, Fletcher and the Caterpillar!!

Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Shortlists 2021

The shortlists for this years’ CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals were announced on Thursday, 18 March. Highly praised by the judging panel for “offering hope and escapism during lockdown, ” this range of novels for young people and picturebooks stand out for their ability to take us out of our day-to-day, all too dreary patterns this year and offer journeys, the Great Outdoors, exploration of the wonder of wild places and lives filled with adventure and freedom. Each one brings a unique vision…something completely different and , perhaps, unconsidered.

Eleven of the sixteen books that made their way onto the shortlists have been authored by women; “the female lens is prominent” this year. And extraordinarily, all of the picturebooks nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal have been authored and illustrated by the same creator. This is truly a first.

The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals are awarded annually, celebrating outstanding achievement in children’s writing and illustration respectively. They are unique in being judged by librarians, with the Shadowers’ Choice Award voted for by children and young people. 16 titles have been shortlisted for the 2021 Medals (8 on each shortlist) selected from a total of 40 longlisted titles, read by an expert volunteer team of 15 librarians from across the UK.

And here are the shortlists…..

2021 CILIP Carnegie MEDAL Shortlist:

  • Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (Hot Key Books)
  • The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson, illustrated by Kathrin Honesta (Usborne)
  • The Girl Who Became A Tree by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Kate Milner (Otter-Barry Books)
  • On Midnight Beach by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (Faber)
  • Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann (Penguin Random House Children’s)
  • Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds (Knights Of)
  • The Fountains Of Silence by Ruta Sepetys (Penguin Random House Children’s)
  • Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk (Penguin Random House Children’s)

2021 Kate Greenaway Shortlist:

  • Starbird illustrated and written by Sharon King-Chai (Two Hoots)
  • The Bird Within Me illustrated by Sara Lundberg and translated by B. J. Epstein (Book Island)
  • It’s A No-Money Day illustrated and written by Kate Milner (Barrington Stoke)
  • How The Stars Came To Be illustrated and written by Poonam Mistry (Tate Publishing)
  • Hike illustrated and written by Pete Oswald (Walker Books)
  • I Go Quiet illustrated and written by David Ouimet (Canongate)
  • Arlo The Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep illustrated and written by Catherine Rayner (Macmillan Children’s Books)
  • Small In The City illustrated and written by Sydney Smith (Walker Books)

The winners of these prestigious book awards will be announced on Wednesday, 16 June 2021. Covid guidelines and restrictions permitting, a socially-distanced special daytime event will be held at the British Library, and the event will be live-streamed online. The winners will each receive £500 worth of books to donate to their local library, a specially commissioned gold medal and a £5000 Colin Mears Award prize.

To all the authors and illustrators on the 2021 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals shortlists…the very best of luck!

For more information:

Stories from History: Irish Historical Fiction for Kids — LitVox

As some of you might know, I’m on the LitVox team as their Childrens’ Books expert. Here’s a small feature I did for them to celebrate some really fantastic books for St Patricks’ Day. Enjoy!

If you want a more comprehensive review of any of these books (and more), check out the Irish Books page on this blog.

As it’s the first St. Patrick’s Day in living memory without a parade, those kids will need to be kept entertained… The post Stories from History: Irish Historical Fiction for Kids appeared first on LitVox.

Stories from History: Irish Historical Fiction for Kids — LitVox

Looking at the Wide World: Swim, Shark, Swim! by Dom Conlon & Anastacia Izlesou

Wild Wanderers series: Leap, Hare, Leap! & Swim, Shark, Swim! by Dom Conlon and Anatasia Izlesou

Children are fascinated by nature. I think in truth, we all are. It is limitless in its’ variety and beauty can bee seen everywhere. More than just fascination, children want to know; they want the information, the facts…and stories. Presented with a poetic texts and gorgeous illustrations, the Wild Wanderers series gives exactly that; facts, information, drama and tales of the intricate wonders to be found in the natural world all across our planet. The second in what promises to be a bountiful series is available now….

SWIM, SHARK, SWIM (Wild Wanderers 2)

author: Dom Conlon

illustrator: Anastacia Izlesou

Graffeg Ltd. (23 February 2021)

ISBN: 9781914079054

As Shark swims, lost and searching off the western coast of Australia, he comes too close to the shore. A fishing boat suddenly drops its’ net and, sensing the danger, Shark escapes, opening “a tunnel of bubbles and light and…. swim, Shark, SWIM!” Fast and gliding, Shark makes his way across the vast connected oceans of the world, meeting new creatures in different waters everywhere he travels. And he takes us with him.

This lyrical poem wafts and washes across the reader, evoking a strong sense of the very oceans we travel through with Shark as he seeks home and food.. From the warm seas off Australia through the busy waters where African penguins dive through silvery fish, up to the wild, cold North Atlantic across the American coast, over to the green seas of the Pacific and back…to the Great Barrier Reef; Sharks’ home. He meets many shark relatives and view the strange ways of a vast variety of sealife along the way. It is a wonder with its’ gentle rhythm and economy of language, bringing brilliant description and characterisation as it moves us across the globe with fascinating detail and deeper understanding.

The story paints a picture of each location that is rivaled only by the exquisite illustrations that illuminate each page. Matching the words perfectly and enhancing them, there is a glorious movement throughout the tale. Each creature is given its’ own sense of being and place. The differences in the sharks that haunt the varying locations become truly striking and clear and invite a further fascination in these creatures. As we journey through the different oceans, separate yet connected, the pictures allow us to reconsider what we know about them, revealing different colours and textures, so that we not only see, but feel the changing temperatures and micro-climates in each watery kingdom. Every single page, and in fact even the end papers are extraordinary.

With a full page of shark facts and a simple map depicting Sharks’ extraordinary travels, this is a picturebook to cherish (like its’ companion, Leap, Hare, Leap!) Interesting, wondrous, mesmerising and very true. I can’t wait to see what Conlon and Izlesou have in store for us in the next installment; Blow, Wind, Blow!

Many thanks to Graffeg Ltd for gifting me with the review copy of Swim, Shark, Swim! And for inviting me to the online launch.

KPGM Childrens’ Books Ireland Awards Shortlist 2021

The titles competing for the KPGM Childrens Books Ireland Awards 2021 were revealed yesterday and, oh my goodness, what an incredible shortlist! Covering a range from picturebooks to young adult novels, contemporary fiction to Irish legend and folktales, this selection represents the variety and depth of writing (and illustration) in Irish childrens’ writing and publishing today. Each one is outstanding; completely remarkable in its’ own right…yes, I have read them all. (Please check my pages and previous posts for reviews and comments on the books.)

The shortlisted titles are as follows:

Hope against Hope written by Sheena Wilkinson 
Míp written by MáireZepf and illustrated by Paddy Donnelly 
Savage Her Reply written by Deirdre Sullivan and illustrated by Karen Vaughan 
The Boldness of Betty written by Anna Carey 
The Falling in Love Montage written by Ciara Smyth 
The Haunted Lake written and illustrated by P.J. Lynch 
The Monsters of Rookhaven written by Pádraig Kenny illustrated by Edward Bettison 
Why the Moon Travels written by Oein DeBhairduin illustrated by Leanne McDonagh 

Since 1990, the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards have held their place as the most prestigious awards for children’s books in Ireland. The shortlisted titles compete for a total of six awards in six different categories: The Book of the Year Award, The Honour Awards for Fiction and Illustration, the Judges’ Special Award, the Eilís Dillon Award for a first children’s book and the Junior Jurors Award. (I love this award in particular; its’ voice coming directly from young readers.) The winners will be announced at an online ceremony on 25 May by broadcaster Rick O’Shea as part of International Literature Festival Dublin.

My heartfelt and very excited CONGRATULATIONS!!! to all the nominees. My fingers, toes and reading eyes are crossed for you all. Until 25 May….

A Fox and His Music: Gaspards’ Foxtrot by Zeb Soanes and James Mayhew

The Gaspard Collection by Zeb Soanes and James Mayhew

When I first met Gaspard the Fox in 2018, I have to admit I was enchanted. The tale of an urban fox; and based on the life of a real urban fox, I must add; brought a vivid picture of his meanderings and encounters and gave a glimpse of London city life, as well. It made me more alert to the activities of my own local urban foxes and the abundance of actual wildlife in the city and made me wonder what I could do to welcome it all in; to really make the local foxes and their wild friends part of the community. And I found myself pondering more about their local adventures. Did they have domesticated friends, like Gaspard? Did they find themselves attending fetes and festivals unbeknownst to the humans towering over them?

As Gaspards’ story continued with Best in Show, I got a real chuckle at the possibility of a fox inadvertently finding himself the winner of a local dog show. Indeed, all of Gaspards’ adventures bring a smile and a genuine sense of adventure and charm into my day, while including interesting tidbits about nature, wildlife and how people interact with it. And now, with the launch of Gaspards’ Foxtrot, I am considering the importance of music…


author: Zeb Soanes

illustrator: James Mayhew

Graffeg Ltd (4 March 2021)

ISBN: 9781913134808

Honeys’ garden is a little haven for wildlife in the city of London, where all creatures can find a home… like the bees buzzing in their hives by the compost heap and, curled up in a bright, sunny corner, Gaspard the fox. Gaspard is friends with Honeys’ dog, Finty. And a visit from Peter the cat is always welcome. Honey has left the radio on in the garden, playing music to civilise the bees, and Peter is quick to point out that todays’ music is Gaspards’ song, Gaspard de la Nuit (Gaspard of the night.) Finty tells Gaspard about the concert in Hyde Park taking place tonight. It’s all about Londons’ wildlife. And Gaspard wants to come along. But a fox on a London bus? Traveling across the whole city? It doesn’t seem like a good idea. Then a small mishap with Honeys’ scarf leads Gaspard on an adventure to return it. He travels along on the number 38 bus, seeing so many sights, passing so many landmarks and arriving just in time….to have a wonderful surprise waiting for him.

Like the previous two Gaspard books, the gentle, flowing story bring another of the everyday adventures to be had as our friendly fox makes his way around the human world. Gaspard is kind and curious, aware of his surroundings in a way that most people simply aren’t, and this opens our eyes to things we take for granted. The vivid, character-full illustrations by James Mayhew work in perfect harmony with the text, capturing the cityscape, the sense of adventure and wonder and the personality of our intrepid wanderer. The map of Gaspards’ travels that graces the end-pages gives an incredible amount of easy-to-follow added interest. The beautiful, glowing pictures with their exquisite details; the rushing about of people on the street, the side-views of shops, the towering spires and glowing lanterns; show us a London we don’t normally see, inspiring the reader to want to journey on that same bus, exploring Gaspards’ route and looking again. And if you don’t live in London, it encourages you to look around at your own place with a clean set of eyes, noticing the nuances of where you live. This book, its’ words, its’ illustrations all sing with the glorious, subtle music of the fox. Warm-hearted, full of eyes wide open to the world all around and simply joyous.

But Gaspards’ Foxtrot is unique. The tale and the journey bring with it a gorgeous introduction to classical music and understanding of the work of an orchestra. In a world of digital everything, the experience of the orchestra is quite a rare thing in the lives of most children (and quite a number of adults.) In a world of “stars” and “celebrity”, the orchestra is one place that notion simply doesn’t exist. This experience of watching the orchestra work in concert with each other to create music gives a view of what it means to create music, how to paint a scene with music and how to work together as a community to make something beautiful. Adding this string to the bow strengthens the overriding themes of friendship, compassion and understanding that runs throughout all the Gaspard books.

Now….the really exciting news. Gaspards’ Foxtrot, this beautiful story with its’ glorious illustrations, so relatable, so tangible, so full of wonder; this story has been adapted by the composer, Jonathan Dove. Conceived from the start by Zeb Soanes, James Mayhew and Jonathan as both book and orchestral work, the concert will feature live illustration by Mayhew, narration by Soanes and will be played by a range of professional orchestras across the UK, including a performance by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on 10 May 2021. So keep your eyes and ears peeled for Gaspards’ Foxtrot.

I want to thank Graffeg, Ltd for sending me the review copy of Gaspards’ Foxtrot. It is a real treasure. And for inviting me to last Thursdays’ virtual launch! What a joy!

It’s World Book Day 2021!

Quick post! Happy World Book 2021, everyone! I hope you are all celebrating stories and diving into some really good books today. In times past, I would be entertaining school classes and introducing incredible authors and wonderful books to (hopefully) inspire them to really love reading and make reading for just the fun and pleasure of it a life-long habit. But of course, this is a year unlike any other we have seen. Which makes escaping into stories even more important! So please, please….get those books off the shelf and find a new land and a new life to enter.

The annual World Book Day Books are available now. It is the focus of WBD to put a book into every childs’ hands; one they can choose and read and love and is their own. Reading for pleasure is one of the most important tools you can give a child. And while the bookshops may not be open right now, if you contact your local, independent bookshop (they need your support!), you can order any of the WBD2021 books online and have them delivered directly to your door. And they only cost £1/€1.50! (Free with a WBD2021 token…check the terms and conditions with your local bookshop.) And what an incredible selection the have this year!