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?

My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo

Young Sami and his family escape from the bombing of his Syrian neighborhood and go to live in a refugee camp, but Sami had to leave his pigeons behind. As others in his family and in the camp begin to make a new life for themselves, Sami cannot think of anything other than his beautiful birds.

The artwork in this lovely picture book uses “plasticine, polymer clay and other mixed media” to create a sense of beauty in the midst of war and desolation. Even young children can sympathize with Sami and his loneliness and depression as he tries to adjust to a new home without any of the things or people he had to leave behind in Syria, and especially without his pet birds. And I can picture young readers being inspired to use clay and painting and other mixed media to create their own pictures and art that perhaps speak to the losses that they have experienced themselves.

The book would even be a good art therapy book for older children and young adults. The use of literature, art and nature in helping people to cope with loss and with trauma is well-established by now, and this book would be a window for those who don’t understand much about the sadness and grief that refugees experience and a mirror for those who have experienced war or disaster firsthand.

“In 2015, looking for resources to explain the Syrian Civil War to her own children, Suzanne (Del Rizzo) came across the article of a boy who took solace in a connection with the wild birds at the Za’atari refugee camp.” She wrote My Beautiful Birds in response to that article.

The Language of Angels by Richard Michelson

The Language of Angels: A Story About the Reinvention of Hebrew by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Karla Gudeon.

I love nonfiction picture books about overlooked and under-reported events and people in history. The Language of Angels is just such a picture book, about Itamar Ben-Avi (Ben-Zion) and his father, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda who were instrumental in the revival and implementation of Hebrew as the official and modern language of the state of Israel.

I knew that when Israel became a nation, that new/old nation adopted Hebrew as their official language. But I had no knowledge at all of the people behind the revival of the modern Hebrew language. When Eliezer Ben-Yehuda moved to Jerusalem in 1881, no one spoke Hebrew as their main, or native language. Today more than three million people speak Hebrew in daily life.

How did Eliezer and Devorah Ben-Yehuda and their son, Ben-Zion, manage to reinvent a language that had been dead as a daily spoken language for over 1500 years? Well, Eliezer started schools where the primary instruction was in Hebrew. And he decided that his children would speak and be spoken to only in Hebrew—a decision which made for a lonely childhood for Ben-Zion, since no one else spoke Hebrew when he was a child. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda also wrote a Hebrew dictionary and enlisted his pupils to help him make up words for modern things such as ice cream cones and bicycles. (Read the book to find out how to add new words to an old language.)

Even with the afterword that has more information about these people and their language-making, I still had unanswered questions. How did Ben-Yehuda get people to agree to have their children educated in Hebrew, an antiquated and unused language at the time? How did someone talk the fledgling government of Israel into adopting Hebrew as the national language? What happened to Ben-Zion during World War II and after? (His father died in 1922.) Of course a picture book can’t answer all the questions one might have about a particular subject, but the fact that this one sparked so many questions is a good recommendation for it.

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The Princess and the Beggar by Anne Sibley O’Brien

The Princess and the Beggar: A Korean Folktale adapted and illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien.

The Princess and the Beggar is sort of a Korean version of Beauty and the Beast. The Weeping Princess marries Pabo Ondal, the fool of the forest. As they live together and learn each other’s way, the marriage transforms both the princess and the beggar. Or as the book says, “In time—as they planted, tended, and mended together, they learned not to fear each other.”

The illustrations show the dress and countryside of Korea during the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910), when the nobility wore fine brightly colored silks and brocades, while the peasants wore plain clothing of white and gray.Ms. O’Brien, the author-illustrator, lived in South Korea for thirteen years, the daughter of medical missionaries. She heard the story of Pabo Ondal and the the Weeping Princess as a child. Her faithful retelling and her beautiful illustrations show a sympathy for Korean tradition and folklore as well as an ability to to interpret that tradition for Western readers.

I would read this story along with a picture book version of Beauty and the Beast and compare the two stories. How is Pabo Ondal like the Beast? How is he different? How is the Weeping Princess like Beauty? How is she different? Do both stories end happily? Which is more familiar? Which story raises more questions? Some good picture book versions of Beauty and the Beast are:

Beauty and the Beast by Mahlon F. Craft, illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft.
Beauty and the Beast, retold and illustrated by Jan Brett.
Beauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by Mercer Mayer.

I especially like that in this Korean tale it is the wife who teaches and also gives moral support and encouragement to her husband until he becomes the man he is meant to be. And then, “Ondal’s services to the king were many and great, but his happiness awaited him at the foot of Peony Peak.” (his home with the princess)

When the Rain Comes by Alma Fullerton

When the Rain Comes by Alma Fullerton, illustrated by Kim La Fave.

Malini is a little girl in a farming community in Sri Lanka. She wakes up in the morning, excited by her opportunity to learn to plant rice seedlings for the first time. But then, on her way to the fields, Malini has the chance to help the community in a different way, as the monsoon rains come and she responds to a near-disaster with pluck and bravery.

This story is just exciting and even scary enough to enthrall young readers and listeners, even as they learn to admire Malini’s courage and resourcefulness. The text itself, written in free verse, is filled with images and onamatapoeia and word pictures that will help readers to imagine what life must be like in a small farming community in Asia. And the illustrations are colorful and exciting, too, complementing the story and bringing out details that might be lost in the rush of the verse.

I’m excited to add this book to my library since my patrons are always looking for excellent picture books that will introduce their children to life in other places in the world. When the Rain Comes may become a favorite go-to title for those who are studying India and Sri Lanka.

Philomena by Kate Seredy

Philomena is sturdy young country girl who lives with her grandmother in a village in the Czech Republic sometime in the early twentieth century. After her Babushka’s death, Philomena goes to the city of Prague to learn to be a servant and to find her Aunt Liska who deserted the family many years ago.

The story is very Catholic, and Philomena receives messages via circumstances that she believes are from the sainted Babushka. This aspect of the story didn’t bother me even though I don’t believe in praying to or receiving guidance from the dead. Philomena does believe that her grandmother is guiding her and caring for her from beyond the grave, and the device creates a gentle logic and organization to Philomena’s journey to the city and her growth from an innocent little girl to a self-sufficient and mature young lady.

“Everybody else in the village went to church every Sunday. First they listened to Father Matthias. Father Matthias was a wise priest who knew all about the weather, the sheep, and the chickens. He told the men of the village when to plant potatoes and corn. He told them what to do when animals got sick. He knew about God and Heaven, of course, but he also knew that people must have enough to eat to be happy, and therefore good, so he taught them to be good farmers. Good farmers have so much to do that there simply isn’t enough time left over for them to do anything that would make God angry with them! The good priest told them about Heaven, to be sure, but he just took it for granted that all his people would go there. He didn’t have to bother to tell them about the other place. He was a very wise man.”

While Father Matthias’ teaching or lack thereof doesn’t exactly fit with my own reading of the Bible and its soteriology, it is refreshing to read about such a good and down-to-earth priest.

Kate Seredy (pronounced SHARE-edy) was born in 1899 in Budapest, Hungary, and she grew up as an only child in the home of her teacher father. After World War II, Ms. Seredy emigrated to the United States and became an illustrator, first of cards and book covers and other low-paying artistic endeavors, then textbooks and books by other authors. Eventually, Ms. Seredy began to write and illustrate her own stories, mostly set in Central Europe, Hungary and this one in Czechoslovakia. The White Stag, based on Hungarian mythology and folklore and not her best book in my opinion, won the Newbery Medal in 1937. Philomena was published in 1955 after several other books, either written or illustrated or both by the talented Ms. Seredy, had won Newbery awards or honors.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Movies and books don’t usually make me cry. Even as I’ve become more emotional and easily moved in my old age, I still rarely cry in response to a fictional narrative. After all, it’s fiction, didn’t really happen.

Well, trigger warning, The Light Between Oceans made me bawl. In my bed at 1:00 in the morning as I read the ending to this beautiful, supremely sad, and emotional story, I cried, silently so that I wouldn’t wake up my sleeping husband. The themes of brokenness and loss and self-sacrifice and again brokenness were so poignant and so very, very sad.

Set just after World War I came to a close, the story is about a veteran of that war, Tom Sherburne, who returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a small, isolated island off the coast of western Australia. While Tom is on “shore leave” form his lighthouse duties, he meets a local girl, Isabel, and the two of them marry and go to live at the lighthouse where they will stay, just the two of them, without company or leave for years at a time. The real story begins when Isabel is down by the shore and hears a baby’s cry.

I have always identified with these quotations from Gone With the Wind:

“Perhaps I want the old days back again and they’ll never come back, and I am haunted by the memory of them and of the world falling about my ears.”

Rhett Butler to Scarlett: “I was never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together again and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken – and I’d rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken places as long as I lived.”

Or this horribly frightening and prescient quote from Cry, the Beloved Country:

–I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it.
He was grave and silent, and then he said sombrely, I have only one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find that we are turned to hating.

Brokenness.

We do live in a broken world. And sometimes things are so broken that there is no way to pick up the fragments and glue them back together. In The Light Between the Oceans, that kind of brokenness and tragedy comes to one couple, brought on by their own choices, wrong choices, but also very human and understandable choices. I don’t really want to tell anyone too much about this story, except that it is very sad, very real, and very good—-all at the same time. Thank you to whoever recommended it to me.

Thank God that my Jesus makes all things new. We live in a broken world, and sometimes that world is falling down about my ears. And many, many times it is broken through my own fault, my own bad decisions, my own sin. But my God promises, through Christ, to make all things new.

The Poet and the Vampyre by Andrew McConnell Stott

The Poet and the Vampyre: The Curse of Byron and the Birth of Literature’s Greatest Monsters by Andrew McConnell Stott.

What sad, dissipated, lost, and horrible people! This book is about the Shelleys, Percy Bysshe and Mary, Mary’s step-sister, Claire, Lord Byron, and for some reason, Byron’s erstwhile doctor, John Polidori. It’s mostly about the summer of 1816, when Lord Byron and the Shelley ménage and Doctor Polidori were all in Geneva, hanging out and being sad, dissipated, lost, and horrible. Oh, and they also decided to enliven a rainy day by competing to see who could write the best horror story. Mary “won” because she was the only one who finished and published her story, Frankenstein. Polidori wrote something called The Vampyre, too, but it may or may not have been mostly plagiarized from Lord Byron

Percy and Mary were on the run from Mary’s family, unmarried and plagued by debt. They had been together for two years by the summer of 1816 and had a son, William, but they believed in “free love” and therefore were not married. There were persistent rumors that Claire, who ran away with them when they first eloped, was also Percy Shelley’s lover. However, according to this book, Claire only had eyes for Lord Byron, and she was probably already pregnant with Byron’s child when the Byron contingent and the Shelley group met up in Geneva in May of 1816. If it all sounds complicated and rather tawdry, it was.

The Poet and the Vampyre is chronologically scattered, maybe because the Shelleys and Lord Byron and Claire and Polidori led such nomadic and convoluted lives. Lord Byron was also “on the run” in 1816, escaping from his estranged wife and tattered reputation in England. He took up with Claire mostly because she kept throwing her self at him, and he had no power or reason or moral principles to make him resist. Then, there’s a baby, and Byron wants to ignore it, ignore Claire and forget the spring and summer interlude with her ever happened. The narrative keeps going back and forth between Byron’s former life in England and his rise to fame, the Shelleys and Claire and their former lives in England before the great elopement, John Polidori’s history and current situation as Byron’s personal doctor, all of the mess they made of their lives after the summer in Geneva, and various and sundry other anecdotes and historical notes that the author decides to throw in here and there.

The book could have been much better organized, and I never did understand why Polidori was even a focus of the story. Maybe the author felt sorry for him because at the time Mr. Polidori felt ignored and overlooked by the great poets, Byron and Shelley. Since the Romantic poets were so very confessional and personal in their poetry, it makes since to read about their actual lives. Unfortunately, reading about the casual cruelty and lack of any moral standard that Shelley and especially Byron exhibited in their personal lives makes me not want to read their poetry at all. Ever.

I would suggest reading the poetry on its own merits and knowing as little about the poets as possible. That method of literary engagement might mean that you interpret some of the poems of Byron and Shelley in a way that they weren’t meant, but at least you would skip the scandal and gossip and general nastiness. I did find out that Mr. Polidori was the uncle of the Pre-Raphaelite poets Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Christina Rossetti. Interesting, but again I’m not sure it’s terribly significant that the Rossettis had an uncle who was Lord Byron’s personal doctor for a few months.

Christmas in Canterbury, England, 1067

Juliana, the protagonist of the novel The Striped Ships by Eloise McGraw, is exiled from her comfortable home in Winchester by the coming of the Norman invaders to Saxon England. On the morning after St. Nicholas’ Day, she is sleeping in the priory almshouse when she is awakened by bells:

“She was awakened by St. Savior’s bell, loud and close across the road, ringing, she thought at first, for nocturns. But it was, too wild, too loud, too erratic—as if the ringer had tugged hard and frantically, then fled—and there was a growing hubbub of voices outside, in the lane. Around her, others were rousing, scrambling up to cluster around the unshuttered window—and beyond their heads, beyond the black silhouette of the priory walls, she saw the red glow lighting the skies.

There was a fire—a big fire—in the monastery, it might be in St. Savior’s itself. She stumbled to her feet, pushed her way out of the house. She reached the lane just as the bell ceased, and the north tower, which she could see now bathed in flames, above the dark wall, collapsed, with a terrifying, fluttering roar and a final jangle of noise. Wild with panic for Wulfric, she ran, heedless, for the main gate, found the gatehouse aflame, and turned back to run the other way, to the small gate by the cellarer’s storehouse, which stood open, with figures crowding out through it, hampering her as she struggled past. Inside the walls, monks, guests, novices, schoolboys, ran in every direction, black shapes against the garish sky.”

This episode in Canterbury’s history did happen:

The cathedral was destroyed by fire in 1067, a year after the Norman Conquest. Rebuilding began in 1070 under the first Norman archbishop, Lanfranc (1070–77). He cleared the ruins and reconstructed the cathedral to a design based closely on that of the Abbey of St. Etienne in Caen, where he had previously been abbot, using stone brought from France. The new church, its central axis about 5m south of that of its predecessor, was a cruciform building, with an aisled nave of nine bays, a pair of towers at the west end, aiseless transepts with apsidal chapels, a low crossing tower, and a short choir ending in three apses. It was dedicated in 1077. Wikipedia, Canterbury Cathedral

Eloise Jarvis McGraw was a prolific author of children’s fiction, often historical fiction, including The Golden Goblet, Mara Daughter of the Nile, Moccasin Trail, The Seventeenth Swap, and many others. Her books are full of vivid, rounded characters and rich historical details that make the stories she tells come alive. My children especially enjoyed Moccasin Trail when I read it aloud to them many years ago, and I plan to read this medieval tale featuring William the Conqueror and the Bayeux Tapestry, Striped Ships, as soon as I can.

Adrift at Sea by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho

Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, illustrated by Brian Deines.

This nonfiction picture book opens with a bang: our narrator, Tuan Ho, comes from school to his home in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to find preparations being made for a journey. His first reaction is to ask his mother, “Are you leaving me now, too?” A year before Tuan Ho’s father had left Vietnam with his older sister, but then-five year old Tuan and his other three sisters were too young to make the journey as “boat people” refugees from Vietnam. Now, Tuan’s mother tells him that he and two of his sisters will be leaving with “Ma” in the dark of the early morning. It’s a secret; no one must know that they are going. And they must leave Tuan’s four year old sister, Van, behind with family members. “She’s too young to travel.”

The family ride in a truck to the beach. There they are chased and shot at by soldiers as they run to board the boat. On the boat, they face even more hardships: a shortage of food and water, engine trouble, too many passengers, a leaky boat. But the book finally ends with a rescue and a tall glass of milk for the relieved and smiling Tuan Ho.

The illustrations in this book, full color paintings, are absolutely stunning. Canadian illustrator, Brian Deines, has outdone himself in two-page spreads that bring this refugee story to life.

The story itself, a slice of life, begins abruptly without any explanation as to why the family must leave Vietnam. Nor does the main part of the text explain what happens to Tuan Ho and family after they are rescued at sea. However, there are some explanatory pages with both photographs and text at the end of the book that tell readers about the history of the Vietnam War and about the entire history of Tuan Ho’s family and their emigration from Vietnam and eventual reunification in Canada. It’s a good introduction to the subject of the Vietnamese boat people for both older students and middle grade readers. Even primary age children could appreciate Tuan Ho’s story with a little bit of explanation from a parent or teacher about the war and the Communist persecution that they were fleeing.

Another good 2016 entry for my impromptu Refugee and Immigrant Week here at Semicolon.