Irish Books For Irish Children – A Success Story

The Irish publishing industry has always struggled against the domination of the book market here by overseas English-language publishers, particularly those from Britain. The effective “dumping” of British titles on Irish bookshelves has left little room for native publishing houses and writers to flourish and this has only gotten worse with the steady decline in book sales over recent years.

However one small but shining light in all the doom and gloom has been the performance of Irish-language publishers who have carved out a market of their own that continues to slowly grow. The Irish Times reports on the health of Irish children’s book publishing:

“THIS YEAR, aged 75, Dublin grandmother Catherine Sheridan fulfilled a huge ambition. After a life filled with family commitments and a long-held interest in art, she published her first children’s picture book. What makes the achievement – and the book itself – more intriguing is the fact that it’s published in Irish even though she is not a fluent speaker of the language. Réiltín agus Banríon na Gealaí (Twinkle and the Moon Queen) was inspired by a personal story.

“I was always interested in art,” says Sheridan. “I went to classes and lectures, and whenever I drew, I veered towards toys and witches and fairies. Some years ago I found a photo of my eldest granddaughter, where she was sitting under the Christmas tree. I painted a version of it and it became part of this story.”

The tale concerns a tattered Christmas fairy and Sheridan liked the idea of our connections with the past and how old, well-loved things should be valued, rather than binned.

The book is the first publication by the newly founded Páistí Press, run by Jean Harrington, an experienced publisher.

…crucial to its ethos is the publication of bilingual books. “It wouldn’t dawn on many parents to buy books in Irish. For some it’s because they don’t speak the language, and are embarrassed by that. We’re hoping that it might encourage parents to get back into the language and share that experience with their children who are learning Irish in schools.”

Harrington points out that 80 per cent of the books on Irish bookshop shelves are by UK publishers, and that print runs of Irish language books are small.

“ Réiltín has glitter on the pages, which makes production expensive, so you need higher print runs to bring costs down. But while we’re competing with huge publishers, there is a level playing field for all of us in Irish language publishing and we support each other.”

Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin echoes Harrington’s sentiments, having set up Futa Fata (which means “a buzz or babble of excitement”) in 2005. “There are now more books for children published in Irish than English in this country and because we are working in Irish, we’re more immune to the very challenging competition that Irish publishers working in English face.” He cites publishers such as Móinín, Cló Mhaigh Eo and the oldest Irish language publisher (which is Government run), An Gúm.

Futa Fata published 15 children’s books this year, aimed at babies and readers up to the age of 12. Picture books dominate and in January they will launch a new series of books – Danger Zones – that take a humorous look at history. The fact that picture books fare so well, is not surprising, says David Maybury, editor of Inis children’s books magazine.

“Irish language publishers react faster to market changes and tastes and with more publishers joining the market next year we have some great books to look forward to.” Maybury also cites the long career of Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, who has written several young people’s books in Irish. Ní Dhuibhne, along with authors Úna Ó Boyle and children’s laureate Siobhán Parkinson, was nominated for this year’s Reics Carlo Irish language book prize.”

The article also lists some current best-sellers:

“MAC RÍ ÉIREANN by Caitríona Hastings, illustrated by Andrew Whitson (An tSnáthaid Mhór)

This story about a king who must banish his son was shortlisted for the Reics Carlo 2011 award.

CACA DON RI by Ailbhe Nic Ghiolla Bhrighde illustrated by Steve Simpson (Futa Fata)

A tale of a baker who enlists the help of some mice when he must bake a cake for the king.

FAINIC, A FHIACHRA! by Art Ó Súilleabháin, illustrated by Olivia Golden (Cló Mhaigh Eo)

The tale of a curious boy who can’t stop exploring.

ÉASCA PÉASCA by Áine Ní Ghlinn (O’Brien Press)

One of the most popular titles borrowed in Dublin libraries tells the story of a mysterious babysitter with magical powers.

FUNGIE by Ann Marie McCarthy Ré Ó Laighléis (Móinín)

A fun book aimed at 4-7 year-olds, starring Kerry’s most famous dolphin (comes with a DVD).”

All these titles are available from the publishers or from Litríocht, the “Irish Amazon”, whose bilingual website features a huge range of Irish books, e-Books, CDs, DVDs and many other items, all shipping internationally. Or try Cló Iar-Chonnacht for another large range of Irish materials.

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