I love St. Patrick’s Day. I love the rainbows and shamrocks, green foods, and stories of leprechauns and magic. Over the years, my kids and I have explored lots of St. Patrick’s Day books and this is a list of our favorites. Some are old, some, new. As usual, my fundamental recommendation is that you steer clear of licensed products. Believe me, although this list is long, lots of books didn’t make it onto this list.
Fiona’s Luck by Teresa Bateman and illustrated by Kelly Murphy is a fairly new treasure, published in 2009. This book is full of terrific art and a very clever lass who outwits the greedy King of the Leprechauns, who has stolen all the luck from the land and made the people suffer. Most leprechaun stories involve men or boys, and it’s great to have a heroine in the genre. The moral here is that you must depend on your wits, and not on your luck to be successful.
Clever Tom and the Leprechaun was published in 1988 by Linda Shute, who illustrated the book and adapted a traditional leprechaun story originally published in Legends and Traditions of South Ireland in 1825. Shute’s illustrations are watercolor and pencil and are quite lovely. Clever Tom, unfortunately for him, is not quite clever enough to get the sack of gold from the leprechaun shoemaker he captures one day.
To Sing a Song as Big as Ireland is by Nathan Zimelman and is illustrated by Jospeh Low. This is quite an old book, published in 1967, that we found at our library. The story is long and wonderful. A little boy named Terrence O’Flaherty O’Flynn wants more than anything to sing a song as big as Ireland, but he’s really quite small. He tries and tries to grow bigger so that he’ll have a strong voice, but none of his plans work out, not even standing on the dewy ground and beneath the warming sun, or carrying a goat on his shoulders like the strongest man in the county carries his horse. Finally the boy goes to ask his mother, who advises that he catch a leprechaun and get him to grant the boy his wish. The leprechaun gets it wrong several times before the boy can finally sing his song, and when he does “his song told of all of Ireland—its lakes and its hills and its green land, of every bird that rose on its air and every animal that grazed in its meadows and passed through its forests … it told of all of Ireland’s people, and so it was as big as Ireland itself.”
Too Many Leprechauns was published in 2007. Stephen Krensky wrote it and Dan Andreasen is the artist. I love the opening: “Finn O’Finnegan looked like a rogue and walked like a rascal, so it was widely thought that he was at least one or the other. And his shadow, which followed him closely and knew all of his secrets, might have said he was both.” The leprechauns have overrun the town of Dingle and they’re keeping everyone from sleeping with their endless tap-tap-tapping on their fairy shoes. Well, rascally Finn O’Finnegan will fix them. He finds flaws in the little shoemakers’ work, and they’re so insulted they show him their pile of gold coins earned from their shoe-making. Finn manages to hide their gold from them!
Leprechauns Never Lie, by Lorna and Lecia Balian, is a fun book about two women who are too lazy and old to do their daily work. The young woman, Ninny Nanny, sets out to find a leprechaun to change their fortune. She’s lucky enough to find one, and almost gets a great deal, but in the end, her laziness causes her to miss out on the biggest prize of all. Still, in the process, she and ailing Gram do get their chores done, and that’s a good thing after all. This book was originally published in two colors in 1980; in 2004 it came out again with beautiful full color illustrations by Lecia Balian.
Tim O’Toole and the Wee Folk: An Irish Tale Told and Illustrated by Gerald McDermott is worthy of a read. Tim and his wife Kathleen are very poor, and she suggests that maybe he should go and find a job; alas there are no jobs to be found. Although Tim gets lucky enough to stumble upon a group of reveling leprechauns, he gets tricked out of his worthy prizes by neighbors. It’s all because he didn’t do exactly what the wee folk told him to do, and that’s what you get by cutting corners. The wicked, swindling neighbors get their comeuppance in the end, though, and Tim and his bonny Kate do make their fortune through the beneficence of the leprechauns. In these bright illustrations the leprechauns are all cute and charming, wearing green and scarlet.
A Fine St. Patrick’s Day by Susan Wojciechowski with art by Tom Curry might be an outlyer on this list. The story is about two rival towns, Tralee and Tralah, that compete each year to see which one decorates best for St. Patrick’s Day. Six-year-old Fiona Riley comes up with the plan for Tralee to finally win the contest. A leprechaun arrives and asks for help at all the doors, for his cows are stuck in the mud. Citizens of Tralee go to the cows’ rescue, despite their need to finish decorating for the contest, and their generous spirit is rewarded.
St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning, by Eve Bunting features no leprechauns or magic, but it’s magical nonetheless. Little Jamie wakes very early on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day and feels sad that he is considered by his family too small to march in the village parade. But what do they know? He tiptoes out of the house and has a parade all his own with his sweet dog Nell and the slowly waking village. Jan Brett illustrated this sweet book using only three colors, and her pictures of the Irish countryside are charming and evocative. Bunting was born in Ireland and lived there for 30 years. She published this book in 1980.
A Pot o’ Gold is a wonderful anthology of Irish legends, poetry, songs, and even some recipes. It features a legend about St. Patrick, stories with the wee folk, mermaids, fairies, leprechauns, Finn McCool, and more. Works of authors such as Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Katharine Tynan, Arthur O’Shaughnessy, William Butler Yeats, and Jonathan Swift grace this anthology. If you were to buy only one book of Irish stories for children, this might be the one.
The Irish Cinderlad was written by Shirley Climo and illustrated by Loretta Krupinski, and was published in 1996. This is a male, Irish version of the Cinderella story based on two old Irish tales: “The Bracket Bull” from 1898 and “Billy Beg and His Butt” from 1905. The lad, Becan, is banished to the cow pasture when his stepmother and stepsisters come to live with him and his father. This fairy story features a magical bull, a giant, and an opportunity to rescue a princess from a terrible sea-dragon (à la Andromeda). Becan has his faithful friend, his own courage, and his giant feet to thank for his change of fortune, for no one else can fit into his lost boot.
O’Sullivan Stew by Hudson Talbott is a great book. The heroine is Kate O’Sullivan and she is a clever one! When the townspeople anger the witch by refusing to help when her beautiful stallion is taken as payment for taxes by the king, the town suffers terribly: cows won’t give milk, fishing nets come up empty, gardens fail, and everyone goes hungry. Kate convinces her da and brothers, Fergus and Kelly, that they should steal back the horse to appease the witch. But they’re not good horse thieves. It’s up to Kate’s storytelling to save them from the hangman’s rope. There are four great stories within the witch-horse-theft story. Leprechauns appear in one of them. But the best part is the unexpected twist at the end.
The Leprechaun’s Gold is a sweet Irish legend about friendship and generosity. The king of Ireland calls for all the harpists in the land to come and play in a contest. Young Tom is a braggart who thinks he is sure to win, but still stoops to sabotage. Old Pat is a kind gentleman who shares his music and meager possessions freely. On their way to the harping contest, they encounter a leprechaun in a bind. Tom refuses to help, knowing leprechauns are meddlesome troublemakers. Pat comes to the leprechaun’s aid and is rewarded for his kindness. “He played the merriest music ever heard, so wonderful that the wind itself stopped to listen. A wild tune it was, which filled the people’s hearts with joy and their lips with laughter.”
S is for Shamrock: And Ireland Alphabet by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Matt Faulkner provides lots of great lore and information about Ireland, including the Blarney Stone, the Claddagh, The Book of Kells, leprechauns, viking raids, and more. This book includes more factual information about Ireland than the storybooks on this list.
The House Gobbaleen is by Lloyd Alexander, published in 1995. Tooley believes he has bad luck, and although his cat Gladsake knows Tooley’s luck is no better or worse than anyone’s, he thinks that a little help from the Friendly Folk is just what he needs. When a curious little man arrives on his doorstep, Tooley invites him in. It’s not long before the wicked little man has taken over Tooley’s favorite armchair, his bed, and is eating him out of house and home. Only Gladsake can save his master from his own foolishness and outsmart the little man.
Patrick Patron Saint of Ireland is by Tomie dePaola, a much beloved creator of children’s books. I’m actually not crazy about his books, but this book offers a comprehensive history of Patrick’s life and covers the miracles he is said to have performed. If you are looking for a kids’ book that covers the religious angle of this holiday, this might be the one for you.