My last St. Patrick's Day installment...for this year :) These three gems come to us from 3 well-known children's authors: Teresa Bateman, Eve Bunting and Patricia Polacco.
Let's start with Harp O' Gold, written by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Jill Weber. Tom is a wandering minstrel who envisioned for himself a life of leisure, sharing his musical talents with the rich and famous. His music is beautiful and his audiences love it, but he and his wooden harp entertain the common folk and his livelihood depends on them sharing their food and offering him a place to stay for the night. Tom is confident that if he had a finer looking harp, his life would change.
He gets the chance to find out when a leprechaun trades him a fine, gold harp for his battered wooden one. Despite the fact that the strings make his fingers sore and the harp produces a hollow, tinny, soulless sound, but his new audiences - the rich and famous - applaud him loudly. He finds that it isn't all he hoped it would be - the nobles and their friends don't really care about music, they just like showing off the golden harp and having another underling to boss around.
The king hears about the golden harp and the musician who plays it and Tom soon finds himself living in the king's castle, entertaining the king on demand.
He realizes after a few days that he is actually a prisoner in the palace, so he disguises himself and flees to the forest to find the leprechaun and regain his harp and his freedom.
Tom finds the leprechaun and gets his worn, wooden harp back. As he begins to play, "the sound resonated and filled an empty place in his heart." Tom is content to play for those who appreciate his beautiful music as much as he loves playing it.
Bright, colorful pictures created with acrylics and acrylic-based watercolors add to the happy feeling of this tale. The story is written simply, but includes rich vocabulary for young ones. The message is clear - be careful what you wish for ;)
St. Patrick's Day in the Morning, written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett is a sweet tale of little Jamie who is not old enough to participate in the village parade to the top of Acorn Hill. He wakes up early and sees the rest of the family's parade clothing laid out and decides to don a piece of each family member's clothing and hike Acorn Hill alone because, "what do they know?"
He and his dog, Nell, walk through the town, stopping to visit with townspeople along the way. He makes it to the top of Acorn Hill and heads back down as the sun peeks over the hill.
He returns home and curls up in the rocking chair and falls fast asleep. His family wakens to find him sleeping soundly and as his brother comments that he must be sad that he is too little to walk in the parade, Jamie smiles to himself and thinks, "what did he know?"
Jan Brett's 4-color illustrations (green, yellow, white, and black) are charming and prove yet again, that Jan Brett knows how to draw the wonder of childhood. She shows the town's preparations for the holiday with a light touch, keeping the focus on Jamie's determination.
Eve Bunting deftly tells the tale a young boy's determination to prove he's not too little to do something he really wants to do. While the holiday is the underlying theme, it doesn't dominate the story, but is acknowledged mostly through the illustration.
A fine tale, indeed, for a St. Patrick's day morning.
Last, but definitely not least, is Patricia Polacco's Fiona's Lace. Polacco's stories are treasures - heartfelt, homey, rich and touching - she writes about the things that are important to her and her love for the characters is palpable on every page. Published last August, it is her latest book and well worth a trip to the library.
Fiona and her little sister love to hear the story of how their mother made the most beautiful lace in all of Ireland. Her father wanted to court her, but none of her workmates would tell him where she lived. One day, he discovers that bits of lace are tied to tree branches, fence posts, and other landmarks and he follows them all the way to Annie's home. They marry and now their daughter's are learning to make Irish lace while Annie's hands are suffering from arthritis.
The little family leaves Ireland when the closing of the mill makes it difficult for anyone to survive in their village. They sign a contract to work for a wealthy family in Chicago until their passage is paid off, so they pack the belongings they are able to take with them and the long journey begins, with Fiona making lace the entire time.
When they arrive, they discover they are not living in quarters at the home of the wealthy family, but in a tenement filled with other immigrants who have to work 2 or 3 jobs to survive because they don't receive their first paycheck from the wealthy family until they have paid back their passage. While their parents work day and night, Fiona continues to make lace and a local dressmaker is so impressed, he offers to pay "a pretty penny" for as much as she can make.
Before the family can save enough money to buy their own hone, the Great Chicago Fire sweeps through the town and Fiona and her sister must run to safety. With mother and father away at their second jobs, the girls fear they will never see them again. The story of their parents' courtship pops into Fiona's mind and she quickly begins to tie bits of her lace onto everything she can find to mark their path. They run until "they tasted blood in the backs of their throats" and hide in a basement through the night, hoping that their parents are alive and will be able to find them.
It is everything you would expect from a Patricia Polacco book. Need I say more?