The titles competing for this year’s KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards have been revealed

The shortlist includes a collection of folk tales rooted in the oral tradition of the Irish Traveller community, a picturebook in the Irish language, and two historical novels – one set in Dublin during the 1913 Lockout, the other in Belfast in 1921 during the partition of Ireland. The selection is made up of a spread of books for young readers of all ages – from picture-books to young adult novels, and of the eight shortlisted titles, five are published by independent Irish publishers. The list gives an impressive and powerful picture of the status of contemporary Irish children’s literature. 

Founded in 1990, the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards are the most prestigious awards for children’s books in Ireland and are a celebration of Irish writing and illustration for younger people. The eight shortlisted titles will compete for a total of six awards, with the winners to be announced at an online ceremony on 25thMay by book-loving broadcaster Rick O’Shea as part of International Literature Festival Dublin. Taking the role of ‘Young Judge’ for this year is Sarah Fitzgerald (17) from Kinsale, who has read ninety-nine books as part of the judging process. 

The shortlisted titles are:

Hope against Hope written by Sheena Wilkinson (Little Island)
Míp written by MáireZepf and illustrated by Paddy Donnelly (Futa Futa)
Savage Her Reply written by Deirdre Sullivan and illustrated by Karen Vaughan (Little Island)
The Boldness of Betty written by Anna Carey  (The O’Brien Press)
The Falling in Love Montage written by Ciara Smyth  (Andersen Press)
The Haunted Lake written and illustrated by P.J. Lynch  (Walker Books)
The Monsters of Rookhaven written by Pádraig Kenny illustrated by Edward Bettison  (MacMillan Children’s Books)
Why the Moon Travels written by Oein DeBhairduin illustrated by Leanne McDonagh (Skein Press)

For the youngest readers, Míp, by Máire Zepf and Paddy Donnelly, tells a humorous tale of space adventure through the marvellous interplay of text and image. The Haunted Lake, by world-class illustrator P.J. Lynch, takes readers age 7+ on a journey from this land to a ghostly otherworld. 

For ages 10+, Oein DeBhairduin and Leanne McDonagh’s Why the Moon Travels shares superb stories from the Irish Traveller community; Pádraig Kenny and Edward Bettison’s The Monsters of Rookhaven is a dark and gripping adventure full of expertly realised characters; and through skilful storytelling, Anna Carey’s The Boldness of Betty offers a detailed insight into the plight of workers in Dublin in 1913. 

For teen and young adult readers, Sheena Wilkinson’s excellent Hope against Hope is a moving story of a young woman facing prejudice and violence in a divided society; Ciara Smyth’s witty and engaging coming-of-age novel The Falling in Love Montage shows we cannot control the future, no matter how hard we try; and the chilling story of the Children of Lir receives a magnificent retelling in Savage Her Reply by Deirdre Sullivan and Karen Vaughan. 

Children’s Books Ireland, the national charity and arts organisation that administers the awards, will as ever be working closely with ‘Junior Juries’ – groups of children and young people who will read and judge the shortlisted titles. The Juries’ scores decide the winner of the Junior Juries Award, giving children a real way to participate in the awards and make their voices heard. The awards judging panel also includes the ‘Young Judge’ who reads and adjudicates alongside their adult counterparts. 

This year’s Young Judge, Sarah Fitzgerald (age 17), said:

‘Joining the panel for this year’s KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards was an incredible process which I enjoyed from start to finish. Reading my way through the treasure trove of Irish books was by far my highlight of 2020. Each judge contributed so much to the panel, and the insights and perspectives put forward taught me so much, and I am so grateful to have been a part of it all. I cannot imagine doing anything differently, the whole process was fun, transparent and insightful. I was made feel so welcome by everyone, and it was clear that, as a young person, my thoughts were valuable to the group. Hearing the voice of someone immersed in children’s books is so important in the process. And whilst we all enjoyed the process we certainly worked hard!’ 

In total, six awards will be made: The Book of the Year Award, The Honour Awards for Fiction and Illustration, the Judges’ Special Award, the Junior Juries’ Award, and the Eilís Dillon Award for a first children’s book, named in honour of the revered Irish children’s author Eilís Dillon. 

Elaina Ryan, CEO of Children’s Books Ireland, said:

‘In an incredibly challenging year, our judges have worked tirelessly to maintain the integrity of these important awards, whittling 99 books down to just eight. We are so grateful to our sponsors and funders for ensuring that young readers are supplied with books and get the opportunity to meet the wonderful artists behind them.’

Seamus Hand, Managing Partner, KPMG Ireland, stated:

‘Our support of these awards emanates from our interest in learning and our commitment to literacy. They celebrate the truly fantastic talent for storytelling and illustration across our island and we’re very proud of our continued involvement in such an exciting and worthwhile awards programme.’

The KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards recognise excellence in writing and illustration in Irish or English and are open to books by authors and illustrators who were born in Ireland, are permanently resident in Ireland or are citizens of Ireland and which were published between 1st January and 31st December each year. Founded in 1990, the Awards are the leading children’s book awards in Ireland. Each year a panel of judges read all of the books submitted by publishers, some ninety-nine titles in 2020, and a shortlist is announced in March, with the final awards ceremony taking place in May. Previous winners include Máire Zepf for Nóinín,Kelly McCaughrain for Flying Tips for Flightless Birds, Deirdre Sullivan and Karen Vaughan for Tangleweed and Brine, Chris Haughton for Goodnight Everyone, and former Laureate na nÓg Sarah Crossan for One

Comments by the Judges:


Sheena Wilkinson

Little Island Books ISBN 9781912417421

This remarkable historical novel is the funny and moving story of Polly, who runs away to Helen’s Hope hostel in Belfast and lives in a cross-community feminist space of tolerance and inclusion. Set in 1921, when Ireland is at war with Britain and a border is introduced on the island of Ireland, this is an original and expertly written exploration of an aspect of Irish history largely ignored in children’s literature. Wilkinson’s skilful prose captures the sense of the unknown as characters face prejudice and violence while struggling to remain hopeful for their future on a divided island.


Máire Zepf and Paddy Donnelly

Futa Fata ISBN 9781910945582

When scientists send their hardworking robot Míp on a mission to Mars, they’ve great hope that she’ll make significant discoveries; ach ní raibh eachtrán le feiceáil in áit ar bith. Or so it seems to Míp – but not to the reader. This humorous and dynamic picturebook is an excellent example of counterpoint at its best, with words and pictures telling different stories. Zepf and Donnelly show respect for child readers in this playful and accessible narrative where younger readers know a lot more than the clever scientists.


Deirde Sullivan and Karen Vaughan 

Little Island Books ISBN 9781912417643

Many of us may be familiar with the story of Lir’s children, transformed into swans and forced to travel from lake to lake for hundreds of years, but what of their stepmother’s version of events? This fantastic re-versioning of the myth from Aífe’s perspective offers an insight into her mistreatment at the hands of Lir and her reasons for seeking revenge. Written in wonderfully lyrical prose, this is a tense and haunting tale that explores heartache, loss and forgiveness, while giving voice to a woman silenced for generations.


Anna Carey 

The O’Brien Press ISBN 9781788491235

Set in Dublin in 1913, this is the tale of young Betty Rafferty who leaves school to work in a cake shop, only to end up on the picket line as the whole the city goes on strike. This is an extremely well-researched book that really brings the period and the city to life. Carey’s brilliant characterisation of Betty has the reader rooting for her throughout. This narrative of social solidarity fittingly resonates with debates in contemporary Irish culture and reveals the hope and potential that accompanies positive action.


Ciara Smyth

Andersen Press ISBN 9781783449668

Everything is about to change for Saoirse: her mother is ill, her father intends to remarry and she has one summer left before she heads off to university. When she meets Ruby and they embark on what Saoirse hopes will be a short-term and light-hearted romance, things don’t go according to plan. Unafraid to engage with darker themes, Smyth writes a brilliantly witty, clever and funny coming-of-age narrative centred on a young protagonist with a clear and distinctive voice.


P.J. Lynch

Walker Books ISBN 9781406395563

Jacob and his father, Reuben, are the only people brave enough to fish on the mysterious lake created when a dam was built and a town flooded. On land, Jacob falls for a young girl named Ellen, but something keeps drawing him to the lake late into the evening. This tale of love, loss and perseverance told by Lynch through words and masterful illustrations, bringing the reader on a ghostly journey from the world of the living to the eerie depths of the town that lies beneath.


Pádraig Kenny and Edward Bettison 

Macmillan Children’s Books ISBN 9781529054705

Mirabelle is a monster who lives with her family (also monsters) in Rookhaven, a mansion protected from the outside world. That is, until two humans – Jem and Tom – stumble into her life. Kenny’s gripping narrative – with wonderfully eerie illustrations by Bettison – draws upon established gothic and horror motifs in providing readers with an utterly original adventure. Full of darkness and light as well as brilliantly realised characters, this is a page-turner that explores ideas of acceptance, tolerance and true friendship.


Oein DeBhairduin and Leanne McDonagh

Skein Press ISBN 9781916493506

The twenty stories in this extraordinary collection come from the Irish Traveller community, the Mincéirí, the Pavee. Collected by DeBhairduin and retold with passion and lyricism, these are tales of giants, foxes and owls, of friendship, love and hunger, of famine, heartache and loss. In these stories, this world and the otherworld are intertwined, the personal is often used to explore the universal, and storytelling becomes a means of making sense of our surroundings. This is a beautifully written and ground-breaking book, celebrating and sharing a rich tradition that may be unfamiliar to many readers.