Christmas in Ireland, c.1970

Rumer Godden’s novel, The Diddakoi, features a half-Romany (gypsy) and half-Irish orphan girl named Kizzy who after her grandmother’s death must come to live with the “gorgios”, or non-gypsies. One of those gorgios is Admiral Twiss:

“Admiral Twiss . . . made models, chiefly of ships, sometimes sail, sometimes steam; he never spoke to the village children, nor they to him—they were afraid of the eyebrows and moustache—but he made a model church, big enough for each child to creep into, and every Christmas stood it at the House gates. The church was lit up so that its stained-glass windows shone, every tiny piece perfect, and from inside came music, carols that Kizzy liked to think were tiny people singing—Prudence would have told her at once it was a tape—and at midday and midnight, bells would ring a miniature carillon.
In the wagon Kizzy could hear them and knew it was Christmas. Admiral Twiss, too, always sent Kizzy’s Gran a cockerel for Christmas, some oranges and dates, and a bag of oats for Joe. Sometimes Kizzy thought the oranges and dates were for her; sometimes she thought the Admiral did not know she existed.”

This one is another of my book-buying finds. I knew the author from her adult novels, In This House of Brede and Black Narcissus and also her doll stories for children. This story, of a child who experiences prejudice and bullying but manages to learn to trust the trustworthy adults in her life and with their help overcome the racist attitudes of her peers, looks to be a winner.

If you like Ramona Quimby by Beverly Cleary . . .

For the month of July, I’m planning a series of posts about readalikes: what to read (or what to suggest to your favorite child reader) when you’ve read all of your favorite author’s books or all of the books of a certain genre that you know of, and you don’t know what to read next.

Ramona Quimby wannabes are easy to find, but some are better than others. These are some that I have in my library, and I can recommend:

The Bantry Bay series by Hilda van Stockum. These are about an Irish family, but they have the same kind of family adventures and endearing mishaps as an American family like the Quimbys. Pegeen is especially fun, telling about an orphan girl who comes to live with the O’Sullivan family. Pegeen is a spirited young lady who manages to get herself into all sorts of trouble just by being herself… kind of like Ramona.
The Cottage at Bantry Bay.
Francie on the Run.

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker. I really like Clementine. Like Ramona, she’s lovable, but prone to misunderstandings and trouble. Books, so far, in this series are:
The Talented Clementine.
Clementine’s Letter.
Clementine, Friend of the Week.
Clementine and the Family Meeting.
Clementine and the Spring Trip.
Completely Clementine.

Clarice Bean books by Lauren Child. Clarice Bean is a bad speller, a good friend, and a fan of the fictional detective, Ruby Redfort. Clarice’s adventures at school and at home make for funny and entertaining reading. The three Clarice Bean books that I am familiar with are:
Utterly me, Clarice Bean.
Clarice Bean Spells Trouble.
Clarice Bean, Don’t Look Now.

There seem to be more books in the series, and Lauren Child has written a spin-off series of Ruby Redfort detective novels.

Betsy books by Carolyn Haywood. Ms. Haywood wrote forty-seven books for children; twelve of them are the “Betsy books”, about a little girl growing up in a 1950’s neighborhood in a typical U.S. city. Ms. Haywood herself grew up and lived as an adult in Philadelphia, and she said that the children in her books were modeled on the children in her own Philadelphia neighborhood. Like the Ramona books, Betsy books feature children in school and at home engaging in everyday family activities with a lot of humor and affection. The titles are:
B Is for Betsy
Betsy and Billy
Back to School With Betsy
Betsy and the Boys
Betsy’s Busy Summer
Betsy’s Little Star
Betsy and the Circus
Betsy and Mr. Kilpatrick
Betsy’s Play School
Betsy’s Winterhouse
Merry Christmas from Betsy
Snowbound with Betsy

Some standalone books that might appeal to Ramona fans are:
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.
Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning by Danette Haworth.
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm.
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban.

St. Patrick’s Day books

I have several books for St. Patrick’s Day or about Saint Patrick and Ireland in my library:

Shamrocks, Harps, and Shillelaghs: The Story of St. Patrick’s Day Symbols by Edna Barth is more than just a listing of St. Patrick’s Day symbols and customs. It’s a children’s introduction to the history and culture of Ireland, with chapters on Irish literature and poetry, the history of Irish Catholics and Protestants, Irish dress and food, and Irish folklore, as well as the story of St. Patrick himself threaded throughout the ninety-five page book. And there’s bibliography of “Stories for St. Patrick’s Day” at the back of the book which includes many of the books on this list.

St. Patrick, The Irish Saint by Ruth Roquitte, illustrated by Robert Kilbride. “There’s a day in the spring when people wear green. . . On that day almost all of us would like to be Irish.” This book tells the story of the life of Magonus Sucatus Patricius, the man we call Saint Patrick in forty-six page with illustrations. It would be a good read aloud book to introduce children to the man and the holiday named in his honor.

Shamrock and Spear: Tales and Legends from Ireland by F.M. Pilkington, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Tales of giants and beasts, princesses and dwarves, Cormac Mac Art and Fionn Mac Cool make up this well told collection of more than twenty Irish folktales.

St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett. Young Jamie Donovan wants to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but his family says he’s much too small to make it all the way to the top of Acorn Hill. Read about how Jamie proves that he is big enough to march.

Pegeen by Hilda van Stockum. Pegeen is something of a wild thing who makes up stories and dances like a gypsy and gains the affection of the entire O’Sullivan family in spite of her irresponsible ways. Other books about the O’Sullivan family of Bantry Bay are Francie on the Run, which takes place before Pegeen and The Cottage at Bantry Bay, the third book in the series.

Count Your Way Through Ireland by James Haskins. A numerical introduction to the country of Ireland with numbers in Gaelic, counting such things as sports, symbols, foods, stripes in the Irish flag, and one and only one St. Patrick himself.

Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Ireland by Virginia Haviland. Five stories suitable for elementary aged children.

The King of Ireland’s Son by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Willy Pogany. Mr. Colum was a poet and a playwright and a friend of James Joyce, but his retelling of myths, legends, and folklore for children came to be his most enduring work. The King of Ireland’s Son is a novel based on an old Irish tale about a prince who wins his bride, Fedelma the Enchanter’s Daughter, but must reclaim her after a long and adventurous journey of searching for the kidnapped Fedelma.

Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato by Tomie dePoala.
Jamie O’Rourke and the Pooka by Tomie dePaola.
These two picture books tell about Jamie O’Rourke, the laziest man in all of Ireland and his adventures with first, a leprechaun and then, a pooka. Jamie’s lazy ways get him into troubles, but for the most part all ends well for the lazy Jamie.

Do you know of any other Irish and St. Paddy’s Day books for children that are must-haves for my library?

March 17th: St. Patrick and Kate Greenaway

I have written in past years about this poem, The Breastplate, attributed to St. Patrick, but probably not actually composed by him. However, we do have a couple of written pieces that most probably were the work of St. Patrick, one of which is his spiritual autobiography, St. Patrick’s Confessio. For today’s Lenten reading, I suggest you take a few minutes to read through Patrick’s confession.

“I was like a stone lying in the deep mire; and He that is mighty came and in His mercy lifted me, and raised me up, and placed me on the top of the wall.”

“For beyond any doubt on that day we shall rise again in the brightness of the sun, that is, in the glory of Christ Jesus our Redeemer, as children of the living God and co-heirs of Christ, made in his image; for we shall reign through him and for him and in him.”

For a fictional treatment of Patrick’s life and work, I recommend Stephen Lawhead’s novel, Patrick, Son of Ireland.

And here’s a list of picture books for St. Patrick’s Day from Amy at Hope Is the Word.

And yet another list of St. Patrick’s Day picture books from Mind Games.

Celebrating the Irish at Semicolon.

'Image taken from page 43 of 'Little Ann, and other poems. ... Illustrated by Kate Greenaway, etc'' photo (c) 2013, The British Library - license:

March 17th is also the birthday of British author and illustrator, Kate Greenaway (b.1846, d.1901), whose name is used for the Greenaway Medal, the British award for distinguished illustrations in children’s books. Her illustrations are very Jane Austen-esque, aren’t they, although Greenaway herself would have been more of a Victorian/Edwardian era illustrator. Ms. Greenaway was homeschooled until she was twelve, and then she attended the Finsbury School of Art for six years. Her first book, Under the WIndow, was published in 1879 and almost immediately sold out of its first printing of 20,000 copies. The Book continued to sell well for years, and Kate Greenaway’s illustrations and artistic style was widely copied and admired in England and in the U.S.

Greenaway was friendly with Randolph Caldecott, the other famous illustrator of children’s books of the time, and she maintained a twenty year long correspondence with John Ruskin, the famous critic. Ruskin and Greenaway eventually met; however, her relationship with Ruskin, who was probably mentally ill and morally corrupt, was not good for Kate’s confidence or for her art. Kate Greenaway died in 1901 of breast cancer, convinced that her public had rejected and outgrown her art.
~Information taken mostly from the website, Women Children’s Book Illustrators.

'Image taken from page 10 of 'Little Ann, and other poems. ... Illustrated by Kate Greenaway, etc'' photo (c) 2013, The British Library - license:

The 6th Gift of Christmas in Ireland, c.1913

Today is St. Nicholas Day. But the following quote from the story “A Candle for St. Bridget” by Ruth Sawyer features a different saint, St. Bridget of Ireland:

“It was a day of celebration; we had currants in the griddle bread, and Mickey, the post-boy, dropped in for his ‘sup o’ tea.’ I was given a free choice of a the stories I would be hearing again, and I chose St. Bridget. With the moor wind caoining around the chimney and the turf blazing high, the children stretched on the clay floor, and Delia with her foot on the cradle keeping the ‘wee-eat one’ hushed, Michael took us over the hills again to Bethlehem to the manger wherein Mary had laid her baby. We saw the byre with its rude stalls and the crib where the hay was stacked; we saw the gray donkey munching contentedly and Joseph, fallen asleep; and we saw Bridget stoop and take the baby to her own heart and croon him his first cradle-song. All this we saw by ‘the light of the Wee Child’s own glory’ and the gift of Michael Donnelly’s tongue.” ~from A Newbery Christmas, Fourteen Stories of Christmas selected by Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh.

Today’s gifts from Semicolon:
A song: Santa Claus Is Coming to Town

A booklist: Celebrating the Irish

A birthday: Joyce Kilmer, b.1886.

A poem: The Fourth Shepherd by Joyce Kilmer.

Buried in a Bog by Sheila Connolly

Bostonian Maura Donovan is determined to honor her recently deceased grandmother’s wishes and visit the small Irish village of Leap in County Cork where Gran was born. But she gets more than a tourist’s introduction to Ireland, with friendly Irish people who may or may not be related to her grandmother, an Irish pub that could have been lifted from the nineteenth century, a job offer at that same pub, and unfortunately, death, possibly murder, in the sleepy Irish village where Maura just wanted to visit and lay to rest her grandmother’s memory.

Sheila Connolly has written two other mystery series: the Orchard Mysteries, set in western Massachusetts, and the Museum Mysteries, which take place in and among the museums of Philadelphia. Buried in a Bog, published in February 2013, is the beginning of a new series, called the County Cork Mysteries. Ms. Connolly has done her research, so anyone who’s interested in Ireland, its history and contemporary culture, would probably enjoy Buried in a Bog and its sequels when they come out.

I found the protagonist, Maura, a little sharp and prickly and prone to jump to conclusions. She’s trying to be an independent woman and prove that she can take care of herself, but the attitude feels unnecessarily confrontational in contrast to the ore easy-going Irishmen and women she meets in Leap. Maybe it’s an “ugly AMerican ” thing. I did like the fact that Maura is from the lower middle class in Boston. She doesn’t take her financial situation for granted; she worries about money enough to pay for basics, food and clothes and a place to live. I found this refreshingly realistic in contrast to most amateur gumshoes in books and on TV who seem to be able to finance most any journey or whim without any visible means of support. Or else they’re independently wealthy. Maura is able to go to Ireland because of a small sum of money that her grandmother saved for that purpose, and when she gets there she is careful with her funds and aware of the necessity of making plans for her future self-support.

Anyway, it’s a good story, and the series promises to be a hit for fans of everything Irish.

There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones

The INSPY Awards are blogger-initiated book awards for fictional literature that grapples with expressions of the Christian faith. The awards were given in several categories in 2011, including the category of “literature for young people”, and I got to be judge in that category. The INSPY Awards took a break in 2012, but they’re back this year. And the list below is the “long list” of nominated books in the Literature for Young People category for this time around:

Wreath by Judy Christie
With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo. Semicolon review here.
Thundersnow by Sheila Hollinghead
Dead Man’s Hand by Eddie Jones
There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones
Crazy Dangerous by Andrew Klavan. Semicolon review here.
Cake – Love, Chickens and a Taste of Peculiar by Joyce Magnin
Right Where I Belong by Krista McGee
The Embittered Ruby by Nicole O’Dell
The Shadowed Onyx by Nicole O’Dell
Code of Silence by Tim Shoemaker
Addison Blakely: Confessions of a PK by Betsy St. Amant
Temptation: Solitary Tales No. 3 by Travis Thrasher
How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Three of the books on the list I’ve already read and reviewed, as indicated. Actually, I read How To Save a Life by Sara Zarr, and I thought I reviewed it but can’t find the review anywhere. I liked all three very much. I read a couple more of the books on this long list this past week: There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones and Code of Silence by Tim Shoemaker (review coming soon).

Ms. Jones is a rather prolific author of teen romances for Christian girls. Her books were all over Lifeway last time I was there. I rad one of her other books a year or two ago and thought it was just “meh.” This one was fairly low on the scale, too, and would have received a complete pan, were it not for the setting: Ireland.

Finley Sinclair, daughter of a wealthy hotel magnate, and sister to Will whose death in a terrorist incident has put Finley’s life in a tailspin of grief, is headed for Ireland to spend a year studying and trying to reconnect with God. Will came to love and know God when he studied in Ireland, and Finley hopes to follow in his footsteps, literally by visiting all of the places Will wrote about in his travel journal. Color Finley grey: grief-stricken, questioning, recovering from a mental breakdown, and lost.

Enter Beckett Rush, teen heart-throb, Hollywood player and bad boy, and star of a series of vampire movies. He’s in Ireland to film the latest movie in the Steel Markov vampire franchise. Beckett and Finley meet on the plane, clash, and hope never to see one another again. Alas, predictably, they are destined to meet again, clash again, and eventually fall in love and live happily ever after.

OK, it’s not quite that cliche. Take away the “live happily ever after.” Beckett and especially Finley are dealing with way too many issues to have a traditional happy ending. Beckett has a pushy dad who doubles as his greedy manager. Finley has mental health issues, a grouchy school assignment, and the loss of her faith, as well as the afore-mentioned grief and Beckett to keep her busy and confused.

As I think about it, this book would have made a good K-drama: Finley falls asleep on Beckett’s shoulder and drools, the two feud but are thrown together in spite of themselves, there’s a group of nasty, jealous girls at school, Finley has a sidekick, Erin, whom she mentors, lots of K-drama tropes. An awkward kiss or two, change the nationalities and the setting of the novel, take out the God-talk, and it would work on Korean TV just fine. In fact, it would work better on screen and with some editing.

I probably wouldn’t have made it through this one, though, if it hadn’t been set in Ireland. Give me a vivid setting, and I’ll follow you anywhere. And I got to read parts of the dialogue with an Irish lilt inside my head. A good plot and some engaging characters would have helped the journey, however.

Other reviews in which the blogger thought it was just peachy (I may be in the minority on this one): Edgy Inspirational Romance, YA Books Central, Christian Novels, Tree Swing Reading, etc.

The Seven Tales of Trinket by Shelley Moore Thomas

I don’t like short stories, and I don’t much like it when authors disguise a book of stories as a novel by creating some over-arching narrative that sorta, kinda ties the stories together. Thank goodness, The Seven Tales of Trinket is NOT that kind of book.

Yes, there are seven tales here: folk tales about faeries and banshees and selkies and a gypsy fortune-teller and a pooka. And the journey of Trinket and her friend, the pig-boy Thomas, to find adventure and to find Trinket’s father is the Tale that ties all of the seven tales together. But the book is a meditation and a story about telling stories, about the art of the Irish seanechai or storyteller. And the author, Ms. Thomas, is storyteller herself. So it all works together; it just fits.

As Trinket looks for her father, James the Bard, who left on a story-telling journey of his own long ago and never returned to Trinket and her mother, she grows and becomes the storyteller she wants to be. She’s not a copy of her father or of her beautiful mother, although she carries a little of each of them in herself. She’s Trinket, the Story Lass, her own person and a teller of tales in her own right.

My favorite story of the tales Trinket lives and collects is the story of the The Faerie Queen and the Gold Coin. I delighted in this story of Orla, a girl who’s such an accomplished dancer that the Faerie Queen takes notice and challenges her to a dancing contest. Of course, as Trinket says, “humans and magical beings often see things differently.” The Faerie Queen changes the rules of the contest at the last minute, and Orla must dance the dance of her life to win the contest.

These are lovely stories, drawn from Celtic sources but adapted to fit with and enrich Trinket’s story. If all story collections were this well harmonized and tied together, I’d read more stories. Because it’s a story-telling kind of book, this one would be a great classroom or homeschool read aloud.

A Couple of Ghost Stories

Ghosts are always good for a fall evening of reading. My favorite ghost stories: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Hamlet by Shakespeare, The Saracen Lamp by Ruth M. Arthur (an oldie but goodie for children/YA), The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens,

As you can see, old-fashioned ghost stories are my favorites, so these Cybils nominees were just O.K. for me. If you’re a fan of the ghost story genre, you may really enjoy them, though.

The Whispering House by Rebecca Wade.
This ghost story reminded me at first of an Agatha Christie novel or an Alfred Hitchcock TV episode. The tone was very matter of fact and not supernatural at all. I kept thinking throughout the first half of the book that everything would turn out to have a natural, if somewhat sinister, explanation: the dusty, spooky attic, the creepy doll, the deteriorating house, the stories of mysterious death a hundred years in the past. But then a ghostly visitor, a little Victorian girl named Maisie, who may or may not have been murdered by her ugly spinster aunt, starts making appearances, breaking things, leaving messages in strange places, and generally creating poltergeist-like havoc. And our twenty-first century protagonist, Hannah Price, travels or dreams herself into Maisie’s time, chasing the elusive ghostly girl in the white dress with the long dark streaming hair (see cover art, which is very good and evocative, by the way). And after that, things get really ghostly and somewhat ghastly, and there is obviously not going to be any natural explanation for the events in the story.

Still, the sensible, pragmatic actions of the children in the story make the supernatural elements that much more eerie. Hannah and her friend Sam go to visit their friend Miss Murdoch, a Wiccan witch, to get her take on the strange events in the borrowed house that Hannah’s family has rented. Hannah asks her friend the bishop what he thinks about it all. (The bishop and the Wiccan have a friendly but competitive discussion about the differences between magic and miracle, a discussion that I would have liked to read more of.) Hannah takes the doll, which has human hair, to be tested by her friend at the police lab. (Hannah has a lot of useful adult friends.) The kids do normal things to solve this abnormal mystery. I liked that aspect of the story.

A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle
A Greyhound of a Girl is very Irish, and I liked that. But it didn’t really feel like a children’s book, exactly. The story is about four generations of women, and it’s partly told from the youngest girl’s point of view. But it’s also about the girl’s grandmother and great-grandmother (who’s a ghost), and I guess it just left some questions unanswered for me. Why did the great-grandmother feel as if she had to stick around as a ghost? She says it’s to make sure her daughter was O.K. but that took about 60 years of ghost-hood?

The themes are death and dying and living life to its fullest, and the characters have rich and thoughtful conversations about those issues. I think adults would enjoy this book more than children would, but I could be underestimating children and over-estimating adults.

A few ghost quotes:
“You said I killed you – haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!” Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

“In one aspect, yes, I believe in ghosts, but we create them. We haunt ourselves.” ~Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirls

“[M]ost people have never seen a ghost, and never want or expect to, but almost everyone will admit that sometimes they have a sneaking feeling that they just possibly could meet a ghost if they weren’t careful – if they were to turn a corner too suddenly, perhaps, or open their eyes too soon when they wake up at night, or go into a dark room without hesitating first.”
~Shirley Jackson, Come Along With Me

What’s your favorite ghost story?