Erin go bragh! Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with this updated list of nonfiction about Ireland and its history, fiction starring Irish and Irish American protagonists, and a little bit of pure blarney. All of the following titles were recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and Guide at the time of their publication; reviews are reprinted from The Horn Book Guide Online. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.
Bateman, Teresa The Leprechaun Under the Bed
Gr. K–3 32 pp. Holiday 2012
Trade ISBN 978-0-8234-2221-0
Illustrated by Paul Meisel. Sean McDonald inadvertently builds his house over leprechaun Brian O’Shea’s home. Though Brian tries to scare Sean away at first, the two eventually reach an unspoken agreement. When hard times hit, Brian shares his gold with Sean, and the two work together to thwart a robbery. Meisel’s whimsical acrylic and watercolor illustrations add an additional layer of lightheartedness to the well-paced story.
Bunting, Eve Ballywhinney Girl
Gr. K–3 32 pp. Clarion 2012
Trade ISBN 978-0-547-55843-1
Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. Maeve’s grandpa unearths a mummy — common in Ireland, where (a note says) scores of remains have been found. Maeve’s uneasiness at the find turns to empathy for the long-ago girl who, like her, had blond hair. McCully’s masterful pen-and-ink lines capture Maeve’s feelings; watercolors evoke the lush countryside. This is a sensitive opening to the universal theme of curiosity about death.
Bunting, Eve The Banshee
Gr. K–3 32 pp. Clarion 2009
Trade ISBN 978-0-618-82162-4
Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. Convinced that he hears a banshee wailing in the middle of the night, a young Irish boy fights his fear and goes out to confront her. Though there turns out to be a rational explanation, it doesn’t negate the suspense of Bunting’s taut, immediate story. McCully’s atmospheric watercolors add to the tension, whether depicting the banshee of the boy’s imagination or the spooky-enough dark-of-night reality.
dePaola, Tomie Jamie O’Rourke and the Pooka
Gr. K–3 32 pp. Putnam 2000
Trade ISBN 0-399-23467-5
In this good-humored tale about the folly of counting on someone else to do your work, Jamie O’Rourke, “the laziest man in all of Ireland,” and his cronies have a grand time while his wife is away, but the house ends up a mess. When a pooka, or animal spirit, arrives and cleans the place from top to bottom, Jamie thinks his problems are over. DePaola’s cozy, colorful illustrations are a good match for the lighthearted, rhythmic text.
Wojciechowski, Susan A Fine St. Patrick’s Day
Gr. K–3 40 pp. Random 2004
Trade ISBN 0-375-82386-7
Library binding ISBN 0-375-92386-1
Illustrated by Tom Curry. In the St. Patrick’s Day contest with rival burg Tralah, young Fiona Riley’s idea to paint the town green gives the town of Tralee hope for a win. When Tralee stops painting to help a red-bearded little man in green, it looks like they’ve sacrificed their chance to win. This folk-like tale of kindness rewarded features a winning heroine and lots of atmosphere in the rich illustrations.
Wyeth, Sharon Dennis The Granddaughter Necklace
Gr. K–3 32 pp. Scholastic/Levine 2013
Trade ISBN 978-0-545-08125-2
Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Frances arrives in America from Ireland with a crystal necklace her mother gave her. Over many generations, it’s handed down from mother to daughter for special occasions such as a birthday, performing an act of kindness, or completing a difficult task. The well-told fictional story honoring ancestry is inspired by Wyeth’s family; Ibatoulline’s rich gouache paintings help celebrate this history.
Primary and Intermediate fiction
Auxier, Jonathan The Night Gardener
Gr. 4–6 353 pp. Abrams/Amulet 2014
Trade ISBN 978-1-4197-1144-2
During the Irish Potato Famine, siblings Molly and Kip land in England at the once-proud Windsor family’s stately but decrepit mansion, which appears to exert a malevolent force on its inhabitants. Auxier delivers a spooky, menacing atmosphere; mystery; and suspense. While the book partakes of familiar tropes and themes, there’s enough of a fresh spin on them that readers should be captivated.
Creech, Sharon The Great Unexpected
Gr. 4–6 226 pp. HarperCollins/Cotler 2012
Trade ISBN 978-0-06-189232-5
Library binding ISBN 978-0-06-189233-2
A strange boy falls out of a tree in Blackbird Tree, USA. Meanwhile, in Ireland, an old woman and her companion talk of murder and revenge. Connections and coincidences pile up; Creech keeps control of her material through her enormously sympathetic narrator, Naomi, painfully honest as she experiences the all-consuming-ness of first love. Though the lessons are overt, they’re well worth learning.
Doyle, Roddy Brilliant
Gr. 4–6 186 pp. Abrams/Amulet 2015
Trade ISBN 978-1-4197-1479-5
Illustrated by Emily Hughes. Expanded from a 2011 short story written in honor of Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities, this novel is about kids trying to shake off the “Black Dog” of malaise that has gripped their beloved city. Both an homage to Dublin and a jumping-off point for conversations about economic and emotional depression, the illustrated novel is a little short on plot but long on hope and humor.
Doyle, Roddy A Greyhound of a Girl
Gr. 4–6 202 pp. Abrams/Amulet 2012
Trade ISBN 978-1-4197-0168-9
Twelve-year-old Mary O’Hara’s narrative is punctuated with scenes from the young lives of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Eventually all four generations meet (“one of them dead, one of them dying, one of them driving, one of them just starting out”) and head off to an old family home. Doyle’s Irish ghost tale is moving and artfully structured.
Giff, Patricia Reilly Nory Ryan’s Song
Gr. 4–6 152 pp. Delacorte 2000
Trade ISBN 0-385-32141-4
Giff recounts the tragic days of Ireland’s mid-nineteenth-century potato famine. Twelve-year-old Nory’s struggle to find food for her family brings her to the outcast village wise woman, where she overcomes her superstitions to learn the art of healing. Reflective rather than suspenseful, this first-person narrative allows the reader to become an eyewitness to history. This is a story of raw courage that ends hopefully if not happily. Glos. Look for sequels Maggie’s Door (2003) and Water Street (2006).
Parkinson, Siobhan Kathleen: The Celtic Knot
Gr. 4–6 166 pp. AmericanGirl 2003
Trade ISBN 1-58485-830-3
Paperback ISBN 1-58485-748-X
Girls of Many Lands series. A light hand, sharp wit, serious social issues, and a hint of subversion are ingredients in this lively story. Times are hard for Kathleen and her family, who live in a crowded tenement in 1930s Dublin. Her opportunity for advancement comes when an unexpectedly kind nun recommends Irish-dance lessons. Well-contextualized Irish words and phrases are further defined in the appended glossary; historical notes and photos are included.
Sanderson, Whitney Darcy
Gr. 1–3 145 pp. Random 2013
Library binding ISBN 978-0-375-97121-1
Paperback ISBN 978-0-307-97635-2
Illustrated by Ruth Sanderson. Horse Diaries series. Darcy is a Connemara pony owned by a family living on the West Coast of Ireland in the early twentieth century. As with the other books in the series, this is one part history, three parts horse book. Readers will root for the plucky horse protagonist and the children who care for her. Information on the breed and the historical setting is appended.
Thomas, Shelley Moore Secrets of Selkie Bay
Gr. 4–6 214 pp. Farrar 2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-374-36749-7
Ebook ISBN 978-0-374-36750-3
Eleven-year-old Cordelia has been trying to hold her family together since her mother left. When middle-sister Ione becomes convinced that their mother is actually a selkie who’s returned to the bay, the girls set out (with baby Neevy) in search of a legendary selkies’ island. Thomas’s writing is sensory and lyrical; Cordie’s determination coupled with her naiveté heightens this touching family drama’s poignancy.
Thompson, Kate The New Policeman
Gr. 4–6 442 pp. Greenwillow 2007
Trade ISBN 978-0-06-117427-8
Library binding ISBN 978-0-06-117428-5
Time is leaking out of the human world and into the timeless land of Tír na n’Óg. The book’s complex plot features alternating narratives, enigmatic subplots, and a large cast. The story sometimes gets a bit crowded but winds into a suspenseful climax. For those who appreciate an original twist on authentic lore, this will be spellbinding. Glos. Look for sequels The Last of the High Kings and The White Horse Trick.
Dowd, Siobhan Bog Child
Middle school, high school 327 pp. Random/Fickling 2008
Trade ISBN 978-0-385-75169-8
Library binding ISBN 978-0-385-75170-4
In 1981, eighteen-year-old Fergus finds a body of a girl from the Iron Age in the bog between Northern Ireland and the Republic. He dreams about her while struggling to focus on exams as his brother, a political prisoner, begins a hunger strike. Parallel themes of sacrifice and resurrection dominate the book’s imagery, and the suspense sustains momentum. An author’s note gives background.
Fitzgerald, Sarah Moore Back to Blackbrick
Middle school, high school 210 pp. McElderry 2013
Trade ISBN 978-1-4424-8155-8
In this Irish import, Cosmo travels back to his grandfather’s youth and discovers that Granddad is falling in love with the wrong woman. If he marries good-looking Maggie instead of Granny Deedee, Cosmo won’t exist. This genealogical conundrum is played out against the upstairs/downstairs world of 1940s Blackbrick Abbey, where Granddad is a stable boy. A fresh tale of secrets and boyhood schemes.
Fowley-Doyle, Moïra The Accident Season
Middle school, high school 295 pp. Penguin/Dawson 2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-525-42948-7
Every October, seventeen-year-old Cara’s family inexplicably experiences accidents. This year is supposed to be the worst, but not in the way everyone expects. Along with the usual bumps and bruises, family secrets are uncovered, and Cara finally learns the tragic origins of her family’s curse. Set in Ireland, magic and reality twist together in a poignant debut about secrets, ghosts, and love.
Friesner, Esther Deception’s Princess
Middle school, high school 325 pp. Random 2014
Trade ISBN 978-0-449-81863-3
Library binding ISBN 978-0-449-81864-0
Ebook ISBN 978-0-449-81865-7
Maeve, youngest daughter of the High King of Èriu (first-century Ireland), chafes at her lack of influence and her destiny as a prize bride to be awarded to a political ally. A young druid who rescues injured wildlife offers her friendship. Maeve’s musings on freedom, her diplomatic banter with suitors, and grounded historical details make this entertaining princess tale stand out. Look for sequel Deception’s Pawn.
Heneghan, James The Grave
Middle school, high school 245 pp. Farrar/Foster 2000
Trade ISBN 0-374-32765-3
After construction workers discover a mass grave in his schoolyard, thirteen-year-old foster child Tom falls — or is pulled — into the excavated grave. He emerges from the darkness to find he has traveled through time from 1974 Liverpool to 1847 Ireland. Tom’s colorful first-person narrative describes the era of the great potato famine with honesty; his time travel experiences also provide some clues to his family background.
Hamilton, Kersten Tyger Tyger: A Goblin Wars Book
Middle school, high school 311 pp. Clarion 2010
Trade ISBN 978-0-547-33008-2
Previously unbeknownst to her, driven high-schooler Teagan’s family bridges the gap between humans and goblins. When Teagan’s ostensible cousin, Finn Mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool from Irish folklore), comes to stay, she’s dragged into a dangerous and twisted world. Threads of mental disabilities, death, and the deep-rooted bonds of family are effectively intertwined with the depiction of Teagan’s exploits. Look for sequels In the Forests of the Night and When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears.
Kiernan, Celine Into the Grey
Middle school, high school 295 pp. Candlewick 2014
Trade ISBN 978-0-7636-7061-0
Ebook ISBN 978-0-7636-7409-0
Twin teens Patrick and Dominick move with their family to a shabby seaside cottage. There Pat sees that Dom is being haunted by the ghost of a young boy, while Pat himself is visited by nightmares about a WWI soldier. Family love, loyalty, and protectiveness are palpable in a well-drawn cast of characters. The pace is galvanized with energetic drama and evocative Irish dialect.
Thompson, Kate Creature of the Night
Middle school, high school 250 pp. Roaring Brook 2009
Trade ISBN 978-1-59643-511-7
Bobby’s family moves from the Dublin slums to the countryside. Their new house has a dark history, including a girl’s death and the previous tenant’s disappearance. Thompson (The New Policeman, The Last of the High Kings) shifts gears for this gritty crime thriller with only the barest hints of fantasy, though the Irish setting once again works its own kind of magic.
Nonfiction, Poetry, and Folklore
Bartoletti, Susan Campbell Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850
Middle school, high school 184 pp. Houghton 2001
Trade ISBN 0-618-00271-5
In explaining how repeated years of blighted crops decimated Ireland’s huge subsistence class, Bartoletti draws on an impressive array of sources to give faces and names to those who suffered and to those in positions of influence in Ireland and England. Added materials include a map, time line, and discussion of sources. Numerous archival prints add haunting evidence. Bib., ind.
Brown, Don Across a Dark and Wild Sea
Gr. K–3 32 pp. 2002
Trade ISBN 0-7613-1534-9
Library binding ISBN 0-7613-2415-1
Calligraphy by Deborah Nadel. Based on the Irish legend of Columcille, this picture book biography emphasizes the love of books and learning that helped preserve Western civilization during the Dark Ages. The text is lilting; the sentences vary in length and intensity to make it suitable for reading aloud. The design is dramatic, and the illustrations are almost dreamlike in quality. An informative author’s note is appended. Bib.
Burns, Batt The King with Horse’s Ears and Other Irish Folktales
Gr. 4–6 96 pp. Sterling 2009
Trade ISBN 978-1-4027-3772-5
Illustrated by Igor Oleynikov. Folktales of the World series. This collection includes thirteen traditional Irish folktales and legends, tales of the “Wee Folk,” and stories of village life. The tellings are lyrically written and richly detailed (if wordy). Rough-hewn gouache and digital illustrations ably reflect the tales’ humble origins. Some source information and Gaelic pronunciations are included. Bib., glos.
dePaola, Tomie Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland
Gr. K–3 32 pp. Holiday
Trade ISBN 0-8234-0924-4
In re-creating the life of this popular figure, dePaola has separated his narrative into two sections: the first, a biographical account of Patrick’s life; the second, a compilation of legends. The uncluttered illustrations are reminiscent of murals in their emphasis on essential elements of the narrative. The whole is a well-executed treatment of an appealing subject.
Doyle, Malachy One, Two, Three O’Leary
Preschool 32 pp. McElderry 2004
Trade ISBN 0-689-85513-3
Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. Seventeen Irish playground rhymes for calling someone out are gathered here in a tale about the O’Learys and their ten children. Hillenbrand depicts the family as bouncy and jolly, with bright colors against white backgrounds. The premise of the book is quite ambitious (a story told completely in nonsense rhymes), but the pictures tie the disconnected rhymes together, telling a lively bedtime story.
Doyle, Malachy Tales from Old Ireland
Gr. 4–6 96 pp. Barefoot 2000
Trade ISBN 1-902283-97-X
Illustrated by Niamh Sharkey. Doyle has retold seven of his favorite tales, beginning with “The Children of Lir,” one of the best loved of Irish tales. “Lusmore and the Fairies” warns of the need to respect supernatural powers; “Fair, Brown, and Trembling” is a Cinderella variant; other tales are deeply rooted in Celtic mythology. The illustrations are richly colored like illuminated manuscripts. Thorough source notes are included.
Snell, Gordon Thicker than Water: Coming-of-Age Stories by Irish and Irish American Writers
Middle school, high school 239 pp. Delacorte 2001
Trade ISBN 0-385-32571-1
While sharing a common Irish heritage, the voices and styles of the well-known and award-winning writers gathered here are as refreshingly diverse as those of any top-notch short story collection. A strong sense of place, from a tiny island off Ireland’s west coast to a roadhouse in West Texas, is the common thread of these growing-up stories; that, and the strength of the writing.
Souhami, Jessica Mrs. McCool and the Giant Cuhullin: An Irish Tale
Gr. K–3 32 pp. Holt 2002
Trade ISBN 0-8050-6852-X
Irish folk-hero Finn McCool hides behind his clever wife in this teasing tale of two cowardly giants. When Finn sucks his magic thumb, he can see fierce Cuhullin, who has his own magic finger, coming after him. Finn runs home to his wife, who hatches a plan to fool Cuhullin and deprive him of his magic finger. Both the light, playful text and vividly colored art are well matched to the comic tale. A well-made source note is appended.