Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 09 Sep 2020

To the Island by Patricia Forde, illustrated by Nicola Bernardelli

Children’s books about islands have an enduring romantic appeal, particularly for nostalgic elderly people like myself. This beautifully illustrated picture book is based on a traditional Irish legend that transports the reader to an entrancing land where magic is everywhere. There is interesting information at the back of the book about the roots of the story of this mythical place , which was apparently the subject of the Irish painter Jack Yeats in 1937.

The cover shows Fia, a young girl with long, luscious red hair appearing to walk across the purple sea to a moonlit island shining with strange looking creatures.  As the story unfolds we learn that the mysterious island is called Hy Brasil, which only appears once every seven years. I loved the double page spread that shows Fia running through the dark streets of the peaceful little city of Galway towards the quay, drawn by a deep longing to experience the magic that she has been told about.

 As I turned the pages I could almost feel her anticipation and hear the waves lapping quietly. She carefully puts one foot on the water and away she goes following a silver moonbeam. With a flock of seagulls, we then have a bird’s eye view of her seeing the island rising out of the water ‘graceful as a whisper’.  There is so much to see there: strange glowing animals, mermaids and people.

Once she arrives, everything is suffused with golden light and a feeling of wellbeing as she takes a ride on the back of a gilded butterfly which takes her to meet the fairy folk who include ‘a boy with eyes like summer puddles’. Together they dance to the bed of the sea where they see treasure chests overseen by a huge seal wearing a glistening gold crown, and then we have my favourite example of this author’s poetic writing style:

‘She danced up to the

Clear night sky where

wishes are pinned to stars,

and stardust tickled her nose

And painted her lips with silver’.

From this great height she can observe the brightly coloured houses of Galway – another unusual perspective as we see her looking backwards from the corner of the left hand side of the page.  All too soon the spell is broken and she watches as Hy Brasil slips slowly beneath the sea for another seven years. But the magical experience has changed her forever as she smiles sleepily back safely in her own bed, with just a small trace of the magic left in her hair.

This was a book that left me with a warm feeling and a longing to visit the west of Ireland. Maybe I need to check when the next appearance of the island is scheduled? Published by the award winning Irish publisher, Little Island Books in collaboration with Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture, it is a celebration of the importance of story and imagination which are much needed in these strange times. As such, it is being offered to all children starting primary school in Galway in September 2020.

What a wonderful present.


Karen Argent

September 2020