Date reviewed: 3/16/03
Summary: Nory Ryan lives with her two older sisters (Maggie and Celia), her younger brother (Patrick/Patch), and her grandfather in Ireland. Their father is out earning wages at sea to pay for the rent to the English Lord Cunningham. Nory does chores for and learns healing remedies from her neighbor, an elderly woman named Anna. As the potato crop fails and the country’s population begins to starve, Nory and her family must choose between life in America or death in Ireland.
Personal Reaction: The hardest part of the story for me was when Nory send little Patch off to America with her neighbor Sean Red. It’s a heartbreaking separation then and when Nory and Anna part. The author’s notes at the end were interesting. (On the day following my reading of this, I watched The History Channel’s many programs based on Ireland since it was St. Patrick’s Day. Much of this book is emotional myth – from the Irish point of view, it is true; from the English POV which is not mentioned, there are extenuating circumstances. Just an interesting sidenote!)
Points for discussion with children: Irish/English conflicts, Great Potato Famine (even Great Depression as parallel here in US)
Possible classroom uses: This book can be used during the study of European History or of Immigration to the US. It may even spark a little interest in geneaology for those with Irish backgrounds.
Connections to other books? Nonfiction like Black Potatoes by Bartoleti will greatly enhance the reading of this powerfully emotional book; you can even throw in an Irish cook book or Irish folktales or songs. Run the Blockade by Wisler tells of what lengths a young boy will go to when faced with that history. How I Survived the Irish Famine by Wilson is another telling of a similar famine tale.
Realia: stuffed animals/sculptures/photos of cow, pig, chicken; shawl, photographs of Irish circa famine, photos of thatched huts and English estates, Irish folk music audio recordings
Food items connected to story: potatoes, bread, eggs