Ten Terrific Books Set in Wales

Published on: 10 July 2023

Author Lizzie Huxley-Jones shares their top ten books set in Wales

I love Wales. The mountains, the stories, the people, the songs, the history! We are a nation of storytellers and magic and curiosity and brilliance. And my favourite thing about stories set in Wales is how much of my home is there on the page – things like romping around castles, going for a walk up the mountain as something to do, and even just the way people say things. When I get homesick, the first thing I do is dive into a book set in Wales. And so I’m here to show you some of my favourites, some of which I read while writing Vivi Conway and the Sword of Legend.

But before we get onto the books, I just wanted to highlight a few things.

Firstly, most of the main characters in these books are white. There is an underrepresentation of characters and authors of colour in Welsh children’s literature – this essay by Karen Sands-O’Connor and Darren Chetty in Books for Keeps explores exactly this. There are many brilliant Welsh authors and poets of colour currently writing things not necessarily set in Wales, such as Catherine Johnson, Patience Agbabi, Darren Chetty, Emma-Jane Smith-Barton and Alex Wharton. The brilliant blog FamilyBookworms does an excellent job of tracking all the Welsh authors in children’s literature so head to them for more recommendations! On top of that, the Welsh publisher Firefly Press is investing in intersectional Welsh stories and their authors, so I hope to update this list in a few years with new books to recommend.

Second, all these books are in English, though several are also available in Welsh. There are many brilliant Welsh-language-only books set in Wales that I have undoubtedly missed as I’m unfortunately not fluent in Welsh (yet).

And with that, onto the list!

'King of the Sky' by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin

When a young Italian boy moves to Wales, nothing feels familiar, that is until Mr Evans, an ex-miner, shows the boy his fantastic racing pigeons, especially his prize bird, Re Del Cielo (or King of the Sky). A beautiful story of new homes and community set in an ex-mining town.

'The Last Firefox' by Lee Newbery, illustrated by Laura Catalán

While playing hide and seek with his friends in a castle and escaping an angry goose, Charlie is entrusted with a magical fox cub by a mysterious visitor. Meanwhile, his dads are preparing to adopt another child, which could dramatically change his home life.

Also available in Welsh as Y Llwynog Tân Olaf.

'Seed' by Caryl Lewis, illustrated by George Ermos

Marty and his mum live in a house full of things that she can’t help but keep collecting, even if those things are broken or strange or useless; she needs them, or so she thinks. On Marty’s birthday, he’s given a magical seed by his Grandad, which leads him and his new friend Gracie, a Deaf girl with a passion for dance, on a magical adventure over the sea.

Also available in Welsh as Hedyn.

'Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It' by Susie Day

Max’s dad has disappeared, leaving him to look over his three younger sisters, a roll of £20 notes and the occasional hushed voicemail from his dad with instructions not to call him back. That’s when Max hears about a dragon who could solve all his problems...⁠

'Storm Hound' by Claire Fayers

Wizards have invaded a small Welsh town as magic stirs throughout the Black Mountains, and a magical stormhound falls to earth, only to be adopted from the rescue centre by twelve-year-old Jessica. But soon, Jessica realises there’s something very different about Storm. Norse myth meets Welsh legend!

'The Blackthorn Branch' by Elen Caldecott

Under the mountain live the Tylwyth Teg, magical people who steal children from the village – and this time they’re after Cassie’s brother Byron, who is still reeling from the death of his Taid, whose loss has in turn changed Byron’s relationship with his dad. Together with her cousin Siân and aided by the wise advice of their Nain and a part of an important tree, Cassie must venture deep into Annwn to bring him home, if she can…

'Where the River Takes Us' by Lesley Parr, illustrated by David Dean

It’s 1974. A wild beast roams the mountains, and Richie, Jason’s older brother who is now responsible for them both after the death of their parents, is caught up in a criminal operation. When Jason learns that there’s a financial prize for a photograph of the beast, he and his friends set out across the countryside to find it. Family, friendship and ferocity.

'The Mab' edited by Matt Brown & Eloise Williams, illustrated by Max Low, translated by Bethan Gwanas

An accessible, enjoyable and brilliant collection of the eleven stories from the Mabinogion, retold by Welsh children’s authors, including Hanan Issa, Catherine Johnson, Alex Wharton, Sophie Anderson and Claire Fayers, in both English and Welsh (in the same book!) with an introduction from Michael Sheen. An essential addition to Welsh literature and children’s bookshelves!

'Seaglass' by Eloise Williams

Lark’s mum is ill, her sister Wren has stopped speaking, and no one will talk about anything. When her family arrive at a caravan park on the Welsh coast for a much-needed break, Lark finds a ruined house in the woods and Wren won’t stop drawing a girl in a green dress who Lark might have seen in the mist. Haunting and beautiful.

'The Blue Book of Nebo' by Manon Steffan Ros

The End came when Dylan was six, and yet, somehow, he and his mother survived. From their hilltop house in Nebo, they write diary entries in a notebook, documenting their lives, and the secrets they hide from each other. A stunning exploration of survival and family.

Also available in Welsh as Llyfr Glas Nebo.

'Vivi Conway and the Sword of Legend' by Lizzie Huxley-Jones is out now.

Topics: Features, Wales

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