Tabitha Plimtock, a six-year-old girl from the Edge of the World, will stay with young readers for a long time. They’ll find her in a new book just out this week. Written by Erika McCann, illustrated by Philip Cullen, and published by O’Brien Press, it is entitled ‘Tabitha Plimtock and the Edge of the World’, and it’s a great read for children aged ten years and older.
Tabitha lives in a house atop The Wall, at the Edge of the World. She sleeps in the bath and likens the snoring of her unusual family to being on a very bumpy nightly train ride. Bertha Plimtock is by far the oldest, no one knows how old exactly, perhaps 200 and something. Today is her birthday, and because it is today everyday, everyday is her birthday. Her cousin Wilbur becomes an animal when the wind blows from west to east. (I know that feeling!)
Tabitha climbs down the wall daily to get eggs from Mr Offal, milk from Richard and Molly, herbs and nuts from the wailing twins… and then there is Mr Cratchley. “That’s my jar of lost love… The people of the world are so very lucky, but they don’t know it. They have so much love in their lives that they sometimes let it go. They give it away or forget it, and it falls away from them and gets caught on the wind.”
Tabitha, however has never been below the Sunline where the ‘Whatever-they-ares’ live, but goats and chickens have disappeared, and Tabitha is afraid for her friends, so down she goes and….
Another wonderful new Irish release for children is ‘The Little Bee Charmer of Henrietta Street’, by Sarah Webb, also published by O’Brien Press. The book is set in Dublin in 1911, in the tenements of Henrietta Street, where previous great Georgian Houses of the inner city became homes for the poverty stricken, with up to 19 families living in one house alone.
After losing their mother, Eliza and her brother, Jonty, move from the leafy suburbs of Rathmines to take up residence along with their father, whose sight is failing and business has collapsed. The reality of life in 1911 is brought home as we meet neighbours Annie and her brothers and many other residents of Henrietta Street – estimated to be 835 that year.
Eliza and Jonty learn very quickly what is really important in life. A mysterious circus comes to town and a whole world of magic opens up to them, not least the amazing bee charmer, Madam Ada, who too has suffered loss. With the hardships that befall them, they also, like Tabitha, find a vibrancy of life, friendships and beauty. And above all, they discover the power of dreams and of holding on to what we believe in.
Henrietta Street is about two streets away from where, at ten years of age myself, I trooped thrice weekly to the Capel Street Library for countless books for my granny, a voracious reader. Needless to say, this definitely instilled in me the love of books.
But more than this, research studies in recent years show children who read at this age increase their comprehension and overall ability to process information. So there is no excuse not put these these two truly amazing books under their little noses.
Bríd Conroy and her husband Neil Paul run Tertulia – A Bookshop Like No Other at The Quay, Westport.