O’Brien Press threw a celebratory party last night, marking 20 years since the publication of the book that really kick-started our entry into the world of children’s books, Under the Hawthorn Tree by Marita Conlon-McKenna. While we had done a range of books before that, there had been no coherent vision of what we were trying to achieve — once we took the decision to publish a book for children about the great Irish famine, which included death, hardship and pain we realised that our country lacked a real literature about itself for children. And we decided that it would be O’Brien Press’ mission to provide it.
We also decided (and by ‘we’ I really mean our publisher Michael O’Brien and then editorial director Ide ní Laoghaire) that we would always aim to produce books to the best international standards, and would back this up by selling them into international markets: the fact that Under the Hawthorn Tree won the prestigious International Reading Association award showed that these targets were achievable.
It has been a long journey to here: we have published over 500 books for young people, which have been translated into over 30 languages worldwide, created some great series (such as the Pandas) and discovered and nurtured some outstanding writers for children (Eoin Colfer, Siobhán Parkinson, Aubrey Flegg, Conor Kostick, Judi Curtin, Celine Kiernan …), while always trying to innovate through major projects such as The Story of Ireland and Something Beginning with P. It is interesting that in this anniversary year some of our authors have come around full circle. Our first EVER children’s book was a picture book (King Longbeard) and it’s an area we have not really ventured into much since, but Nita Fitzgerald’s It’s Great Being Little is aimed right at this market. The initial burst of historical fiction gave way for a while to contemporary (this year we have Dancing in the Dark and Eva’s Journey) and fantasy fiction (The Rebel Prince), but we have two major historical novels this autumn in Across the Divide and Fugitives. And innovation? we have just produced our first ever cookbook for kids: Alice and Megan’s Cookbook!
We would like to thank everybody who joined us for this special celebration, and most particularly all the authors and staff who make it possible, and look forward to the next 20 years and beyond in the wonderful world of children’s books.