Sullivan and Vaughan win Book of the Year at CBI Awards

Sullivan and Vaughan win Book of the Year at CBI Awards

Author Deirdre Sullivan (pictured, top) and illustrator Karen Vaughan (pictured, below right) have won the Book of the Year Award at the 2021 KPMG Children's Books Ireland Awards for Savage Her Reply (Little Island Books), their feminist retelling of Irish legend "The Children of Lir".

Judges praised Sullivan’s wonderfully lyrical prose, describing the book as "a tense and haunting tale that explores heartache, loss and forgiveness, while giving voice to a woman silenced for generations". This is the second book of the year award win for the duo, whose previous title together, Tangleweed and Brine (Little Island Books), was awarded the overall prize in 2018.

Sullivan said: "It means a huge amount as a writer to receive recognition from an organisation such as Children’s Books Ireland that does such necessary and powerful work for Ireland's young readers. Savage Her Reply was a book that allowed me to interrogate old stories, but also to connect with them and the vast amount they still have to offer us. Aífe's isolation from the world around her, her struggles with her mental health and the abuse she experiences as a young woman are oddly prescient right now."

Vaughan added: "Being recognised by Children’s Books Ireland, an organisation that not only works relentlessly to instill a love of reading in children but champions Irish illustrators and authors is such an enormous honour. The experience of working on a book as fierce, tender, and human as Savage Her Reply is something I’ll treasure."

Among other titles celebrated at the awards was Why the Moon Travels (Skein Press), a collection of 20 folk tales from the Irish Traveller community by Oein DeBhairduin, illustrated by Leanne McDonagh, which won the Judges' Special Award. DeBhairduin was also awarded the Eilís Dillon Award for an outstanding first book for children and young people.

Kildare author Pádraig Kenny received this year’s Honour Award for Fiction for The Monsters of Rookhaven (Macmillan Children's Books), a dark and immersive adventure that explores ideas of acceptance, tolerance and true friendship. 

P J Lynch won the Honour Award for Illustration for The Haunted Lake, a picture book that takes readers on a journey to a ghostly otherworld. Judges noted that "this tale of love, loss and perseverance is told by Lynch through words and masterful illustrations" that transport the reader from the world of the living to the eerie depths of the town that lies beneath the lake. This is the sixth win for Belfast-born Lynch, who previously won honour awards in 2014, 1998, 1995 and 1990 and received the overall Book of the Year Award in 1996 for his artwork in The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (Walker), written by Susan Wojciechowski.

The Junior Juries’ Award is given to the book which receives the highest score from children via ballot sheets. The Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smyth (Andersen) was confirmed as the winner, heralded as a "brilliantly witty, clever and funny coming-of-age narrative centred on a young protagonist with a clear and distinctive voice".

The winners were announced on 25th May in a ceremony hosted by broadcaster Rick O’Shea and shared online as part of the International Literature Festival Dublin. 

Dr Pádraic Whyte, chair of the judging panel, said: "Congratulations to all the amazing illustrators and writers who have won awards today. This is an important – and wonderful – celebration of contemporary Irish children’s literature, a recognition of some of the incredible works being created for younger readers. This eclectic mix of material will inspire and challenge readers for years to come."

Elaina Ryan, chief executive of Children’s Books Ireland, added: "We are proud to recognise the excellent work of all our shortlisted authors and illustrators, whose work has comforted, excited and absorbed readers through an extremely difficult year. Karen Vaughan and Deirdre Sullivan’s retelling of a classic folk tale from a feminist perspective gives voice and power to women whose stories have not traditionally been heard. We are also especially glad that Why The Moon Travels, Oein DeBhairduin and Leanne McDonagh’s book of tales rooted in Traveller culture, is honoured with two awards; let this herald a new era of inclusion for all artists and be an inspiration to young writers in the Traveller community and other underrepresented groups all over Ireland."