Author Sinead Moriarty: “It is important to reach children at an early age and instill the power of empathy.”

Writing for young readers is an important business. Addressing important and necessary topics in an age-appropriate manner that doesn’t talk to them and doesn’t take any prior knowledge for granted is a delicate balance – but one that many writers have developed for decades.

Rituals for young readers is also not a new phenomenon but in recent years the topics have diversified to relate to concepts and ideas we weren’t expecting.

Senad Moriarty, already nicknamed one of Ireland’s storytellers, wrote 16 stories about relationships, friendships, love, anger, and everything in between.

She published her first book for younger readers, The New Girl, last September, which later won the An Post Award for Teen and Young Writers of the Year.

School girl Ruby feels weird when her friends Clara and Dennis team up. When Safa, a refugee who arrived in Ireland from Syria, joins the class, the two realize they have more in common than they can imagine.

Senad brings the same warmth, intelligence, and level of understanding of life when you’re at that age to her second novel, The Truth About Riley.

All was well for Riley until her father’s death, leaving behind a mountain of debt and realizing that this perfect life wasn’t perfect.

Soon she and her mother are homeless, as they have to live in their car, wash in public and earn money so that the latter can get a job.

But, embarrassed and unsure how to explain it, Riley chooses not to tell her best friend Sophie what’s going on.

“Even with my kids, I always try to remember what it was like to be a teenager and it comes back quite easily somehow watching them grow up,” Sinéad explains of putting herself in Riley’s shoes when writing.

“I feel very strongly that children are very well capable of reading books with very heavy subject matter. If I think back to my day there were some very difficult books.

“Even books like Little Women, they were all suffering. Joe had to cut her hair to put food on the table. Kids are well capable of strong subjects, obviously Dickens and other authors. It’s just the way you write it, how you give it to them to digest, that is.” key, and do it in a palatable manner.”

Describing herself as “new” to the world of children’s fiction, and known for her novels including Seven Letters, About Us and her latest release, Yours, Mine, Ours, Sinad says topic-based writing is what she does for both audiences.

“New Girl is about the refugee crisis in a way, this one is about homelessness and the next one I hope to write is about climate change.

“In adult books, I find a topic that I think is interesting and relevant and creates an empathetic story about it with the characters you care about. This is what I hope to do with children’s books and to open children’s eyes to the issues.”

“We live on a small island and I suppose some of us are guilty of living in a little bubble. How else would a child know what it feels like to be someone else except to read?”

When a stranger steps in to help Riley and her mother, the school girl realizes that sometimes it’s the ones she least expects that can change your life for the better.

“Eleven primary years with children,” Sinad says of her protagonist.

“I’m so comfortable in that space, 11, 12, because you’re about to go to high school. You change from a kid and you see that your parents don’t all know, all beings and life can change in an instant. It’s an age when you start losing your innocence a little bit.”

While losing innocence is one thing, completely destroying the reader is another, and not on the writer’s agenda.

“I think it’s really important in children’s books to have hope,” she says.

“I will never leave a child broken – that is not what I am about. This book is full of hope and second chances.

“It is important for children to know that no matter how difficult things are at the moment, there is always hope, there is always a second chance and there is a corner where you can turn. It is very important to have hope.”

Navigating two very different audiences with different expectations for her novels may be difficult for some, but it’s something Sinad says she “absolutely loves.”

“I find it really interesting even though I’m writing about some kind of pretty serious topic,” she says.

“I absolutely love the kids at school seeing their reactions.

“A lot of teachers use The New Girl and hopefully The Truth About Riley as class narratives because it opens up conversations.

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The Truth About Riley by Sinead Moriarty

“And that’s why I wrote it, I want to open up the conversations. I want the kids to sit around themselves or at school and go, ‘Oh my God, what’s it going to be like?'”

“I make a speech and I say, ‘You have a backpack and if you had to leave your house, what five things would you put in it?’ They’re engaged and thinking, ‘What do I do?'”

“It’s about getting them to think outside the box, empathize, empathize, empathize,” she continues. “I’ll keep talking about it, but that’s the key. I think the world has become a very dark place. The rise of the right-wing movement is very real.

“I think it’s really, really important that we reach children at a young age and really instill the importance and the value and the power of empathy and kindness and compassion. Because it’s such a powerful tool.”

There have been many conversations about how the various shutdowns have boosted sales of physical books and e-books, with those at home able to enjoy and indulge in a good read.

So far, with things somewhat back to pre-March 2020, the numbers of people reading on public transportation is heartening to see.

“This was the attraction that drove me to write children’s books,” Sinad explains.

“I feel like I am in the moment they are [her children] They got their phones, their reading fell off the cliff. It’s a bit back now, but as writers and writers, we’re competing with a lot of other distractions and it’s getting tougher. We really need to give the kids a book that we hope will absorb them from the first page, and that’s the key.”

The Truth About Riley by Sinéad Moriarty (Gill Books, £11.99) is now available

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