Are you dreaming of a summer break? Playing safe, you may be planning a trip within the Common Travel Area. Alternatively, you could travel in your imagination around these islands through some great children’s books. Here are a few old favourites, among more recent gems. Let’s take a tour…
Starting in the far south west, The Wreck of the Zanzibar, by Michael Morpurgo, is a much-loved modern classic of children’s literature. First published in 1995, it won the Whitbread Children’s Book Award in the same year, and has been republished many times since. Set on Bryher, in the Scilly Islands, it’s a historical adventure story revolving around 14 year old Laura and her family in the early years of the twentieth century.
Next, we travel to mainland Cornwall, for contributions from two more celebrated writers for children and young people.
Hilary McKay’s beautiful story, The Skylarks War, won the Costa Children’s Book Award in 2018. It tells of love and loss in a family growing up during World War One. Perfect for 9 – 12 year olds (and older).
Helen Dunmore’s Ingo, published in 2005, is a fantasy set between life on land and life in an underwater world in a Cornish cove. The magical elements carry some real-life dilemmas for the young heroine. Recommended for junior/middle readers.
On next to Wales: Ruth Morgan’s book, Alien Rain (2016), is set in two Cardiffs, the original on earth and the new on Mars. This is beautifully written science fiction world-building for young adults, part utopia and part dystopia.
Set in a mining town just north of Cardiff (the location is not specified, but in my mind it’s the Valleys), King of the Sky (2017), by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin, tells of finding community in a new and strange place through acts of kindness, in a picture book for older readers.
Eloise Williams is the inaugural Children’s Laureate Wales 2019-2021. In Elen’s Island (2015), our young heroine, Elen, is sent off unwilling to stay with her grumpy gran on an island just off the coast of Pembrokeshire, in the far south west of Wales. There unfolds a tale of lost treasure, new and old friendships, a pet puffin, told with great verve and humour. Recommended for ages 7-10 years.
North now to Liverpool and Whistling in the Dark (2015), by the ever-wonderful Shirley Hughes. In this historical novel for middle grade readers, Hughes draws on her own childhood, growing up under constant threat of nightly air raids, with rationing, curfews, and blackouts.
Let’s head over the Irish Sea to Dublin for another good historical novel for middle grades (10-14 years), Anna Carey’s The Making of Molly (2016). It’s spring 1912, and 14-year-old Mollie Carberry is finding life is humdrum, until she discovers that her sister is a secret suffragette. After attending a suffrage meeting, Mollie wants to do something for the movement too, and the story evolves around Mollie’s evolving political awareness and activism.
Next to the other side of Ireland, with lyrical text by award-winning Irish author Patricia Forde, and enchanting illustrations by Nicola Bernadelli, is a picture book, To the Island (2020), based on the mythical island of Hy Brasil, which lies off the west coast of Galway.
Staying on the west coast and travelling north, we come to Arranmore Island – or Árainn Mhór – in Galway, for a middle grade fantasy of adventure, family, and courage. The Storm Keeper’s Island (2018) by Catherine Doyle follows young Fionn as he travels to the island with his sister, Tara, to stay with their grandfather. Little do they know how magical and dangerous the island can be.
Ballintoy is on the north coast of County Antrim, and the setting for The Selkie Pact (2015) by Judith Fullerton, a fantastically inventive mystery for older children, based on the mythology of Ireland. Finn is a thoroughly modern boy who doesn’t know his heritage. A quiet summer holiday by the sea with his kindly grandparents is turned on its head when he starts to be drawn into a strange adventure that raises questions about everything he thought he knew.
The next leg of our journey will take us back over the Irish Sea to Glasgow, then on around the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, before heading back south to the Northumberland coast and beyond.
Thanks are due to our trusty researcher and location scout, J.