By reading her books, one can tell Janet Nolan loves to write, particularly about tales from a different time and different cultures. She believes that any book that can challenge her, educates her, and otherwise reveals a new way of thinking is a gift. The author hopes to impart some of the wisdom she’s learned over the years to children who pick up one of her books. One of the times that intrigued Janet Nolan the most is the time of the devastating potato famine in Ireland, a tale she tells through one of her book called The St. Patrick’s Day Shillelagh.
The story starts out in a struggling Ireland, where the potatoes are rotting and its people are starving. The main character, Fergus, and his parents have no choice but to flee their beloved country in order to survive. Just before they set sail for America, Fergus cuts down a blackthorn tree branch, which he spends time whittling into a shillelagh while on the trip. Readers then follow Fergus and his family as they start over in America. He begins a tradition of retelling the tale of his shillelagh on every St. Patrick’s Day thereafter. Years later, after his own son is grown, Fergus passes the shillelagh to him, along with the honor of recounting the tale of the shillelagh. This wonderful gift is then passed from generation to generation, through bad times and happy times, until it reaches Ryan’s hands. Ryan is the pride of his family because he attended college but he disappoints himself by failing to uphold this honor that was bestowed on him. His daughter, Kayleigh, has to remind him after finding it in a closet. Ryan says he was so busy “worrying about tomorrow” that he “forgot to tell you our family’s story of yesterday.”
The moving story is beautifully illustrated by a talented artist named Ben Stahl. His acrylic, realistic illustrations adeptly shows how the family progresses through time. With Janet Nolan’s incredible writing and Stahl’s paintings, readers will get a great sense of the family’s history.
This children’s book is a wonderful introduction to Irish immigration to America and the concept of family heritage. Janet Nolan’s story is a moving tribute to all immigrant families who have contributed so much to America. It’s a story of hope, change, and the importance of family and tradition as a way to honor the past.