Picture Book Snob
Love Song for a Vampire
Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire? by Úna Woods
“In an old part of Dublin, right down by the sea, there’s a moon-shaped park with a creepy old tree. The Dublin vampire lives there.”
Join the Dublin vampire as he wanders around Ireland's capital, passing familiar landmarks and visiting popular places. A little girl and her guardian also make their way through the city, taking the same route as the vampire.
This is a gorgeous book with fabulous illustrations, bursting with all the excitement that an outing in a big city entails.
A vibrant Dublin comes to life against a backdrop of softly glowing streetlamps and star-studded skies. Even though the story is set at night, the images are bright and colourful. The characters’ clothing and the city’s lights explode, just like the story’s Halloween firework display, against shades of purple and autumnal oranges.
We see the Spire, St. Stephen’s Green, the Dead Zoo, Dublin Castle and the Book of Kells. The vampire crosses O’Connell Bridge and The Halfpenny Bridge and strolls into Temple Bar. Even Harry Clarke’s iconic windows are represented as the vampire sits in Bewley’s.
Children will recognise the city centre locations where the vampire stops, and adults will enjoy identifying them too. A daytrip to Dublin was the height of excitement when I was a kid. The vampire stops at many of my favourite haunts from these childhood excursions, though some have been playfully renamed, like the “Bat Ass” café.
I would have loved a book like this when I was growing up in 1980s Ireland. Back then, there weren’t really any contemporary Irish picture books for young children. The only illustrated Irish children’s books I can remember were myths and legends, or twee, touristy-type books that did not reflect the Ireland I knew.
This story proudly pays tribute to Dublin without romanticising the city or clinging to past glories. Refreshingly modern, Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire! depicts the more stylish and culturally diverse identity that now belongs to Dublin.
Evoking a dynamic city, the illustrations are full of activity, bustling crowds, buskers, babies and busy animals. Dublin’s roguish pigeons are brazenly stealing doughnuts and there are ducks, swans and goslings in Stephen's Green. We pass seagulls, one of the Liffey’s elegant herons and a cheeky squirrel eyes a bun in Bewley’s.
The vampire’s pet bat is always up to something. We see him posing atop the ghost bus, possibly attempting to emulate Jack and Rose from Titanic (though I might be over-analysing!). On another page it looks like he is trying to pocket some change intended for a busker.
I love seeing the bat absorbed by a book in the library, demonstrating how magical it is to be consumed by a great story. We seem to find vampire stories particularly enchanting. Since Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published in 1897, vampires have occupied a prominent position in the cultural landscape and there remains an enormous appetite for them.
There are subtle references to Bram Stoker and his legacy throughout this book. We see Dracula being purchased from a stall in Temple Bar. The author clutches a copy when he makes a cameo appearance as a ghost in Dublin castle, where he formerly worked as a civil servant. Stoker also studied in Trinity College, where another scene is set.
Like many other brilliant children’s books, the children in this story know more than the grown-ups and see what the adults fail to notice. No-one in the story, apart from the little girl, observes the vampire in their midst. Everyone else is too distracted.
Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire? highlights how preoccupied we have become with our phones, tablets, headphones, and just hurrying from one place to the next. Even in the library, the little girl, the vampire and the vampire’s pet bat are the only characters with books in their hands instead of devices.
Úna Woods grew up in Clontarf in Dublin, near 15 Marino Crescent, which is where Bram Stoker was born. The house is notable for more than literary reasons. It’s rumoured that the Russian crown jewels were hidden there after being used as collateral by Republicans who loaned money to the Bolsheviks.
Úna is a writer and freelance illustrator with a background in animation who has worked for Disney and Don Bluth, and on the film Space Jam. You can see more of Úna’s work here and she also has an amazing Etsy store where prints can be purchased.
Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire? is Úna’s first picture book - what an impressive debut! I hope it's just the first of many more to come. The vampire is cute rather than scary, and there is not much text on each page, making this suitable for babies and toddlers. Young children love interactive books and repetition, and the question "Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire?" (asked all the way through the book) allows for both. My three and five-year-olds loved this and I could see it being enjoyed by older kids too. This beautiful hardback edition would make a fantastic Halloween-themed gift, especially as it's unclear whether children will be able to go trick or treating this year. It would also make a wonderful birthday or Christmas present. Atmospheric, intriguing, and most importantly, lots of fun, this is the perfect book for the whole family to sink their teeth into on dark October evenings!
PS. Here’s Úna speaking to Children’s Books Ireland for their Books Make Things Better campaign. Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire? is one of the 108 titles featured in the Books Make Things Better reading guide. This free downloadable guide promotes new work from Irish authors, illustrators and translators.
Úna is appearing in the 2020 Dublin Book Festival which takes place online from 27th November - 5th December. Join Úna for a virtual tour of Dublin’s famous sites, follow a mapmaking tutorial and listen to a reading of Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire? Learn more about this family event and register your attendance here.
Title: Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire?
Author & Illustrator: Úna Woods Publisher: O'Brien Press Publication Date: 7th September 2020
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