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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Great Children's Books About St. Patrick's Day

Since St. Patrick's Day is fast approaching AND I happened to naively marry into an Irish family, I thought I'd share with y'all some of my favorite children's picture books about St. Patrick's Day. As a thank you, I expect y'all to feel sorry for me on March 17th. Because, during my first year of marriage to the husband, when I asked him about meal choices for the holiday, he replied, "we pretty much just drink Guinness. Oh, and maybe chow down on some corned beef and cabbage."

(I'd like a moment of silence for commiseration purposes, especially since I my allergies prevent me from drinking beer.)

And yes, the Tongginator loves to confuse people when she wears her self-purchased "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" button.

A Fine St. Patrick's Day by Susan Wojciechowski. I simply adore that this book provides an opportunity to discuss generosity and service to one's community. The neighboring towns of Tralee and Tralah compete each year in a St. Patrick's Day decorating contest, and each year Tralee loses. This year, however, six-year-old Tralee resident Fiona has an idea that may turn the town's luck around--she suggests that they paint the entire town green. As the two towns prepare for the contest, a stranger comes to Tralah who needs help getting his cows unstuck from the mud. The townspeople of Tralah can't be bothered to help him; they are cutting shamrocks out of cardboard to glue on all their trees. But the good folks of Tralee, led again by Fiona, agree to hang up their paintbrushes and help the cows. Despite their sacrifice, they win the contest: the stranger paints the town green while they are sleeping. To stretch the story further, paint with green, just make sure to keep it on the paper, not the house!

Dear Mr. Leprechaun: Letters From My First Friendship by Martin Nelson Burton. Not traditionally considered a St. Patrick's Day book, the Library of Congress files this book under non-fiction: love, and for very good reason. "The first friend I ever had was a leprechaun. We used to write to each other. I would leave notes for him at bedtime. In the morning, I would find his answer." So begins this true account of an enchanting correspondence that would last for seven years, and a friendship that would last a lifetime. While many believe the author communicated with his father every night, still others (especially those shorter than four feet tall) believe in the magical leprechaun. Use this book as a springboard to writing your own letters to a leprechaun. (Best for older school-aged children.)

Fiona's Luck by Teresa Bateman. Using the background of the Irish potato famine,the author weaves a tale of luck and leprechauns, wit and wisdom. At one time, luck was as free to be had in Ireland as sunlight, and just as plentiful. But when the "big folk" arrived, the leprechaun king grew angry that humans soaked up all of the luck floating through the air. He collected all of it and stored it inside of a heavy wooden chest until Fiona used her wit and wisdom, rather than luck, to free it forever. To stretch the story further, compare and contrast this story with other Irish origin tales, including Too Many Leprechauns. Ask your child how is it different? how is it the same? For older school-aged children, research the Irish potato famine (and be sure they understand that a lack of luck did not cause mass famine).

Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato by Tomie dePaola. Jamie O'Rourke is the laziest man in all of Ireland and, unfortunately, he never changes his ways. Despite that, this book is a lively, outlandish read on Saint Patrick's Day, sure to cause giggles. The prospect of a harsh and foodless winter and the never-ending nagging of Jamie's hardworking wife convinces Jamie to pray for help. As Irish luck would have it, Jamie soon captures a leprechaun, who offers magic potato seeds in exchange for his freedom. The resulting colossal "prattie" feeds the entire town again and again and again, until they pray to never see another potato. To stretch this story, grow a sweet potato plant... all you need to start is a glass jar, a few toothpicks and some water.

Leprechauns Never Lie by Lorna Balian. This is a good anecdote to Jaime O'Rourke, since Leprechauns Never Lie teaches that it's easier to do one's chores than to hope for a windfall, and that hard work pays off. Ninny Nanny and Gram are in a bad state. The thatch on their roof is broken, the rain barrel is empty, the potatoes need digging, and all they have to eat is rainwater soup. But Ninny Nanny is lazy and not inclined to work. So she decides to catch a leprechaun and find out where he has hidden his fortune! The idea is splendid, but finding the pot of gold turns out to be much more than Ninny Nanny and Gram bargained for! I especially love the photo-like qualities of the background illustrations paired with the soft watercolors in the foreground. To stretch the story further, talk about the importance of family chores. And of course you may want to create your own leprechaun trap.

O'Sullivan Stew by Hudson Talbott. I adore this non-holiday Irish tale for older, school-aged children. When tax collectors visit Kate's Irish village and steal the local witch's horse, Kate tries to enlist the help of the townsfolk, who shrug their shoulders and declare that their neighbor isn't one of them. The witch goes "into a snit," all sorts of disasters occur. Kate prods her father and brothers into action and they set off to steal the stallion back so that life can return to normal. But instead, caught by the king and threatened with hanging, Kate saves each family member by telling a clever story. Kate, the plucky heroine, spins yarns with tremendous skill, painting pictures with her inventive tales. The illustrations vary from dreamy pastels to muted and murky to bold and bright depending on the nature of the tale she's telling.

Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola. This charming picture-book biography clearly explains the story of the priest who brought Christianity to Ireland. Even preschoolers will follow along as Patrick travels from Britain to Ireland to Britain and back to Ireland again after God speaks to him in a dream, although be forewarned that the storyline does mention slavery and murder. This book is an excellent choice for those who want to stress the holiday's religious beginnings. To stretch the story further, talk with older children about the legends found at the end of the book. Did they really happen? Could they have happened? Research the REAL reason there are no snakes in Ireland (hint: they can't swim and it's pretty darn cold there).

St. Patrick's Day by Gail Gibbons. Every holiday collection needs a basic, yet thorough introductory book, and this is my choice for St. Patrick's Day. The book details how the holiday came about, briefly describes the life and works of Saint Patrick, and shares the various ways in which Irish-Americans celebrate the day. The text and illustrations also detail several symbols commonly associated with the holiday, including shamrocks, Celtic harps and leprechauns. This was a favorite in my preschool classroom and the Tongginator continues to enjoy reading the book independently as a first-grader. To stretch the story, head to the woods and search for your very own shillelagh.

St. Patrick's Day in the Morning by Eve Bunting. One of my favorites for younger children, this book tells the tale of Jaime, a young boy whose father and two elder brothers won't allow him to march in the holiday parade because they don't think he can make it up the ever-so-steep Acorn Hill. Nonplussed, Jaime decides to take matters (and his trusty flute) into his own small hands at dawn on March 17th, embarking on an early morning walk - all the way up Acorn Hill - with his dog Nell before anyone even awakens. To stretch the story further, ask your child if he or she thinks Jaimie told his family about his early morning adventure. If so, what would he have shared? (This is a clever way to test their memory and story sequencing.)

This Is Ireland by M. Sasek. On the heels of his runaway bestsellers This Is New York and This Is Paris, M. Sasek published the absolutely gorgeous, "vintage" looking This Is Ireland. Although not traditionally considered a Saint Patrick's Day book, it complements other holiday books very well by bringing the modern Emerald Isle to life. There's Dublin with its bustling crowds, tall steeples, and Trinity College; there's Clonmacnois, the burial place of kings; there's the Blarney Stone to kiss for eloquence, and much, much more in this verdant, friendly land filled with enchanted lakes and mountains that fall steep to the sea. To stretch the story further, create your own Blarney Stone. Older children may also want to check out a map of Ireland to locate the cities described.

Tim O'Toole and the Wee Folk by Gerald McDermott. An Irish version of the old European tale The Table, the Donkey and the Stick, this non-holiday folk tale still manages to be a great choice on March 17th. Tim O'Toole is so poor, his neighbors avoid him, fearing his bad luck will rub off on them. His luck seems to turn, though, when he spots a band of leprechauns and demands a part of their treasure. After the wee folk bestow him with a goose that lays golden eggs, Tim unwisely boasts of his luck to the greedy McGoons, who substitute their own goose for Tim's. The same thing happens to Tim's next gift, but a third gift - a hat that produces ten little men armed with tiny clubs - solves the problem. And yes, the men armed with clubs do what you think they might do, causing this book to be Quite Popular with the boys at the Tongginator's school. To stretch the story further, write or draw your own story about a person who encounters a leprechaun. Does he learn a lesson? amaze his neighbors? play a crafty trick of his own? Does he end up wealthier? a little wiser? or really embarrassed?

Too Many Leprechauns: Or How That Pot o' Gold Got to the End of the Rainbow by Stephen Krensky. This non-holiday tale offers a playful explanation for how leprechauns first began stashing their gold at the end of a rainbow. When Finn returns home to Dingle after a year spent in Dublin, he expects to rest well and eat copious amounts of his mother's soda bread, but instead he finds a village filled with exhausted people. Finn's mother complains that some noisy leprechauns who are making fairy shoes are disturbing her sleep with their "tap-tap-tap," so the young man devises a clever scheme to outwit them. To stretch this story further, paint rainbows, teaching younger children the correct color order of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple.

What are y'alls favorite St. Patrick's Day books? Or favorite holiday traditions?


Gayla said...

Thanks so much for this list! St. Pats falls on Spring Break so these will make some fun reading for me and my kids that week! So sweet of you to do this!

Oh, and I feel you on the Guinness. My husband is Australian but lived in Ireland for two years... we can commiserate together, friend...

the meaklims said...

This Irish gal is going to ignore that 'naively' word, because I love you so. Heh! ;)

And no harm to anyone, but we absolutely do not eat cabbage and corned beef. Honestly.

I do love your book ideas, especially Fiona's Luck and O'Sullivan Stew. I must pick them up. And I laughed out loud at the Tongginator wearing the kiss me I'm Irish button. Lilah wears hers too, and she has some of the accent to go with it, which some people find really confusing!


The Gang's Momma! said...

Ummmm, yeah. I'm with Jill... I'll let it slide cuz you are DEEEELIRIOUS with "NEXT" and clearly don't know what you are saying.

Dude. You are Irish by marriage. Stand up and say it proud. :) But I'm letting it slide. This is me, letting it slide.

I make an Irish dinner every year - sometimes Irish American (corned beef and cabbage) and sometimes Ireland-peasant Irish (hearty beef or lamb stew). Always, always, I make my whole wheat soda bread. And starting (usually) on March 1st, I blast all my Irish tunes (Celtic hymns, the Corrs, U2, etc.) all day long. I say usually cuz so far, we've been fighting puke, diahhrea, flu, and snot for the last solid week. The iPod is the last thing on my mind, frankly. Running out of paper towels and antibacterial bathroom wipes is far more weighty on my brain.

But NEXT?! Yay. That'll give you a lotta lattitude around here. :)

Cedar said...

I'm pretty sure the one thing we are not is Irish, but my mom always changed the candles on the piano to green and made corn beef, cabbage, and green mashed potatoes. It was always a fun time even though we didn't like any of those items.

Dawn said...

I am Irish... and my poor husband is still (after 21 years) befuddled and the "big deal" we make over our heritage, traditions and celebrations. He doesn't get our desire to stand in freezing cold to watch the pipes (my nephew is a piper) and drums pass by in the parade, nor does he appreciate the traditional Irish dinners. Actually, my children and their cousins do not appreciate the food very much despite having been served it all their lives. I fear that tradition will end with my generation! Ha!

The Byrd's Nest said...

Great books!

Hey...guess what??? No...really guess!!!!!!

YOU'RE NEXT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU ARE REALLY NEXT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (big smile)

Wendy said...

We celebrate St. Patrick's Day by celebrating our wedding anniversary. Choosing March 17 as our wedding date was a great way for my Irish husband not to ever forgot our anniversary.

And our Lily has a Kiss Me I'm Irish tee shirt that she alternately wears along with her Thai Princess sweatshirt. 'Cause we like to screw with people's heads!

Sharie said...

I will not eat corned beef and cabbage - however I usually do have a reuben sandwich which is close enough for me. We also have a nice parade of crazy Irish people through our downtown area. If I don't get out to witness it in person I watch it from the window at work. Not much Irish in these bones:)