Holy Shocking Saints:
The Extraordinary Lives of Twelve Irish Saints
by Síne Quinn | Illustrator: Margaret Anne Suggs | Veritas | HB €14.99 | 9781847309716
“Quinn and Suggs work well to create narratives of saints, both infamous and lesser-known, in a fun and engaging manner. This is a great book that will show you why Ireland is known as the land of saints and scholars.”
Review by Ruth Ennis
Holy Shocking Saints is an illustrated non-fiction book suitable for children aged 9+ years. It introduces the reader to twelve remarkable Irish saints: six men and six women. This list includes names that will be acquainted with most Irish households, such as St Patrick and St Brigid. Though these names may be familiar, you are guaranteed to learn things about their lives and experiences that you never knew before. However, the majority of the book acts as an introduction to lesser-known saints, such as Saint Íde: Foster Mother of the Saints of Ireland, Saint Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, and many more.
The book is fun and accessible throughout. While some readers may be hesitant to read such a book with religious connotations, they can be reassured that Quinn expertly frames the stories of each saint in a way that will be of interest to many. It appeals to an array of non-fiction readers, particularly fans of biographies and historical texts, as well as mythology enthusiasts. There is a significant focus on the events surrounding the saints and the acts they perform to earn the title of saint. The stories of these saints are full of adventure, drama, rebellion, and miracles. Some particularly exciting saints include voyager St Brendan: Patron Saint of Travellers, Fishermen and Whales and St Gobnait: Patron Saint of Bees, Beekeeping and Ironworkers.
The alliterated titles and names of each saint are memorable and charming. For every saint included, there is a dedicated “Did You Know” section full of facts and trivia that brings a new life to the text with these fascinating titbits. There are also helpful pronunciation guides and details about each saint’s day of celebration. The glossary is invaluable for readers who may not be familiar with terminology surrounding sainthood, Irish culture or history, particularly for younger readers. The quippy asides from the stories are often fun interjections to keep the reader engaged, though they appear infrequently enough to sometimes feel like an interruption from the narrative.
One minor shortcoming of the book stems from the design and layout. The bullet-point lists of trivia are presented in a somewhat clunky manner in narrow columns, feeling out of place alongside the illustrations and making them slightly more difficult to read.
The artwork is one of the greatest aspects of this book. The eye-catching cover is only the beginning of the masterful use of vibrant colours that bring the saints and stories to life. The smaller illustrations, often in reference to tokens associated with the saint in question, are modest and informative while adding a flourish to the page. The main illustrations are simultaneously comforting and extravagant, as they capture the essence of the life of the saint depicted. Suggs’ use of watercolour lends itself to a classic feel, reminiscent of Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick’s The Sleeping Giant, that perfectly accompanies these iconic stories.
This hardback book is the perfect gift for young readers who are interested in Irish culture, history, religion, and mythology. It also holds an appeal for international audiences as a delightful tourist book. Quinn and Suggs work well to create narratives of saints, both infamous and lesser-known, in a fun and engaging manner. This is a great book that will show you why Ireland is known as the land of saints and scholars.
Ruth Ennis is an aspiring children’s writer based in Kildare, Ireland. She has a B.A. in English with Drama and an M.Phil. in Children’s Literature. She has short stories, poetry, and essays published in literary journals Sonder, Silver Apples, Paper Lanterns, The Mouldy Bike, The Blue Nib, Strange Times, and Tír na nÓg. She was a Young Writer Delegate and was recently awarded funding from the Arts Council Literature Bursary.