Publishing ‘Dr Hibernica Finch’s Compelling Compendium of Irish Animals’ by Siobhan Parkinson | Magazine | Children & Young Adult | Interviews
Dr Hibernica Finch

By Siobhán Parkinson

Little Island is going all adventurous!

Little Island has for some years now been publishing mostly paperback novels for children and teenagers by debut and established Irish authors, as well as novels in translation. But lately we’ve been dipping our toes into less familiar waters. In 2017, for example, we published the delightful Declarations of the Rights of Boys and Declarations of the Rights of Girls, two books in translation from French that we brought out under one hardback cover. We also brought out last year, in collaboration with Poetry Ireland, a hardback book of poems, Hopscotch in the Sky, now also an audiobook, and supported by an extensive free-to-download ‘poetry kit’ for use in creative writing sessions. Earlier this year we published our first non-fiction title, for an older readership, also a hardback, Rocking the System, about fearless and amazing Irish women in history and into modern times, consisting of a collection of twenty essays accompanied by black-and-white portraits of the subjects.

With Dr Hibernica Finch’s Compelling Compendium of Irish Animals this autumn, we are really spreading our wings. This is a whole new experience for us – a magnificent large-format information book for children of primary-school age. It’s all about the animals – insects, birds, fish, amphibians, crustaceans, mammals and even lizards – that burrow, run, buzz, hide, wallow, dig, tweet, hunt, flutter, bellow, scuttle, fish, peck, scramble, nest, fly, hop, sing, hoot, swim, graze and generally swan around in Irish seas, in the air above our heads and in Irish bogs, fields, hedgerows, cliffs, rock-pools, roof-spaces, mountaintops, ditches, gardens, valleys, trees, riverbeds, outcrops, pastures, forests, streams, beaches, cities – a celebration of our wildlife and our habitats.

This is an information book with a difference. At heart a work of non-fiction, this book also shares some of the characteristics of fiction, notably in the character of Dr Hibernica Finch herself, the ostensible compiler of the compelling compendium. The book is presented as Dr Finch’s slightly worn field sketchbook, filled with her large-scale detailed drawings of the animals and her notes on habits and habitats, but also with her personal asides and the occasional joke in her particular style. Dr Finch’s arch, distracted and slightly old-fashioned voice draws the child reader into the text, mediating the information in a humorous and approachable way. Together with her stunningly executed and detailed drawings – a robin, a toad, a common darter (a dragonfly to you and me) a basking shark, a red squirrel, for instance – her chatty remarks take the schooly edge off zoology and plant it firmly in the area of fascination.

The true author of Dr Hibernica Finch’s text is a Dublin copywriter, Rob Maguire, and the gorgeous illustrations are by Aga Grandowicz, a Polish designer who has made Dublin her home. The concept for the book was Aga’s, and when she approached us with her detailed and beautifully drawn sample illustrations, along with some Dr Finch text from Rob, we couldn’t resist the idea of publishing their work for Irish children interested in finding out more about the natural world around them.

We were aided and abetted in this project by the wonderful Professor Nicola Marples of the zoology department in Trinity College Dublin, who bears absolutely no resemblance to Dr Hibernica Finch except in her boundless enthusiasm for Irish animals. She responded with great delight to our invitation to act as an expert consultant on the book, and she provided lots of those intriguing little bits of information that you don’t find in the usual sources – for example, the fact that Irish badgers, though exactly the same species as British badgers, are more sociable than their cousins across the water. That’s the sort of thing that makes this book so special. Our fauna here in Ireland resembles that of the neighbouring island, but it’s fascinating to see how small differences arise as animals adapt to the various weathers, conditions and habitats on the smaller island.

Children (and their parents) used to seeing glamorous wildlife up close on television or online will find the analogue, retro look here enticing, as this truly lovely book brings home to them that there are animals in our parks and gardens as well as in our lakes and streams that are every bit as much at home in Ireland as we are ourselves, and whose habits, plumage, colouring, shapes and homes are just as intriguing in their homely way as anything you might see on safari or on TV. The natural world is right out there – we only have to open the door and stop and look and listen – and maybe check out what we see and hear with our friendly and knowledgeable if slightly ditzy scientist, Dr Hibernica Finch.

Little Island is delighted with the response so far to this book from wildlife organisations and nature-lovers as well as from bookshops and children’s books enthusiasts. It will be launched on Thursday 4 October in the very appropriate surroundings of the zoological museum in Trinity College. All welcome – children included! – from 6pm. Dr Hibernica Finch herself may not be able to attend, being unavoidably detained, but all her friends, supporters and inventers certainly will!

(c) Siobhán Parkinson, publisher at Little Island

About Dr Hibernica Finch’s Compelling Compendium of Irish Animals:

A large-format, full-colour hardback information book on the animals of Ireland. Animals from the air, land and sea are introduced to the reader by Dr Hibernica, an Irish professor who travels the country and knows everything there is to know about Irish wildlife. The spreads are presented in the style of her notebook and field notes, with jokes and sketches throughout. Light-hearted prose by debut author Rob Maguire and exquisite zoologically correct illustrations by Polish-Irish illustrator Aga Grandowicz. This beautiful animals book will be treasured by families, schools and libraries and will appeal to boys and girls.

Order your copy online here.

To find out more, visit

About the author

Siobhán Parkinson studied at Trinity College Dublin (BA 1976, PhD 1982) and has worked all her life as an editor and a writer. She has written more than twenty-five books – two of which are for adults and the rest for children and young people. Several of her books have received awards and her work has been translated into twenty languages. She is also a translator (from German). She was Ireland’s first Children’s Laureate 2010–12.

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