Readin’ o’ the Green

St. Patrick’s Day is March 17. What will the wee folk be reading? The fact is, children love joining in with traditional St. Patrick’s Day traditions. These books provide insights about where these familiar traditions came from — and give kids a glimpse at the life and legends that surround this great saint who, despite his non-Irish roots, went on to become Ireland’s favorite son.


written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons

Holiday House, 1995

32 pages, $6.95

This informational book tells the history of St. Patrick and ways in which we remember his life and celebrate his adopted country. “To wear green,” the author writes, “is to honor Ireland, the Emerald Isle.” Just to make the point, green shamrocks, leprechauns in green hats and green cupcakes brighten up its pages. Six legends about St. Patrick are included. Ages 4 to 8.


by Ann Tompert

illustrated by Michael Garland

Boyds Mills Press, 2004

32 pages, $8.95

At the heart of Saint Patrick’s Day lies the saint himself. This beautifully rendered picture book biography presents the story of Patrick’s life based on his own Confession. The author touches on Patrick’s early life in Britain, his capture and eventual escape from a life of slavery in Ireland and his return to bring Christianity and ministry to the Irish people. Great illustrations and an easy-to-understand text will inspire young readers. Ages 5 to 10.


by Patricia A. Pingry

illustrated by Pamela R. Levy

CandyCane Press, 2002

26 pages, $6.95

On March 17 we think of many shamrocks, leprechauns, green clothing and — oh, yes — St. Patrick! Using a minimum of words, the author tells the story of the symbols that surround this great saint’s feast day. A board book, it can provide a great introduction to the holiday and all things Irish. Ages 2 to 6.


by Joyce Denham

illustrated by Helen Cann

Loyola, 1998

28 pages, $14.95

Long ago, Celtic Christians talked to God throughout the day, salting even the most mundane activities with the flavor of prayer. This collection melds these ancient prayers with newly inspired ones in the Celtic tradition. The words of St. Patrick and many others provide comfort and inspiration, while the illustrations and border prints deliver a true Celtic feel. Ages 6 and up.


by Patricia McMahon

photographs by Alan O’Connor

Houghton Mifflin, 1999

54 pages, $16

This fascinating informational book begins with a brief history of Ireland and the many events that contributed to the creation of a separate Northern Ireland. The next section brings this history to life by chronicling four days in the life of Liam Leathem, a young Catholic boy growing up in Belfast.

While the opening pages describe the chasm between Catholics and Protestants in this part of the world, it is Liam’s story that drives home the meaning of what this separation means for the people who experience it along with its repercussions on a daily basis. Although the author touches on tough topics like war, violence, prejudice and oppression, the content is always presented in a manner that is developmentally appropriate for young readers.

Outstanding photographs help to convey daily life in Belfast. Ages 9 to 14.


by Janet Nolan

illustrated by Ben F. Stahl

Albert Whitman & Company, 2002

32 pages, $16.95

When the potatoes rot in the fields in Ireland, many go hungry — including young Fergus and his family. The only answer is to leave their beloved homeland for America. Fergus takes a branch from his favorite blackthorn tree and whittles it into a shillelagh as they cross the sea. Fergus works hard in America and marries. Every St. Patrick’s Day, he tells the story of the famine and his journey to America. One year, Fergus gives the shillelagh to his son Declan and says, “Take this branch as a memory of Ireland.” Fergus’s descendents, generation after generation, pass on the shillelagh and the honor of telling its story. Ages 9 to 12.


written and illustrated by M. Sasek

Universal, 2005

64 pages, $17.95

First published in 1962, this illustrated travel guide for children captures the charm and beauty of the Emerald Isle. Its detailed paintings and text will make many wish to visit this Ireland of yore — “green and silent” in the country, bustling in its towns, a welcoming home to writers and saints.

It points out that most of the Irish saints, Patrick included, were named saints by acclaim and not canonization. This guide gives about equal weight to history and folklore.

An example is the Giant’s Causeway, made up of volcanic pillar rocks along the coast. According to legend, the Causeway was “constructed by the giant Finn MacCoul,” the author drolly writes and, “according to geologists, by Lava MacCool.” Fun, with updated facts. Ages 9 and older.


written and illustrated by Salina Yoon

Penguin, 2006

10 pages, $5.99

Five, four, three, two, one! Wee ones will enjoy counting down to St. Patrick’s Day with this sturdy, backwards-counting book.

Shamrocks, spring bunnies and pots of gold are all accounted for in this playful introduction to the symbols of the season. Ages 2 to 5.


written and illustrated by Don Brown

calligraphy by Deborah Nadel

Roaring Brook Press, 2002

32 pages, $15.95

Columbcille was born in the darkest of times. The Roman Empire had collapsed. In its wake, culture was “swept away like yesterday’s dust by the new rulers.” Columbcille — or, as we know him, St. Columba — grows up and becomes a monk and a scribe, helping to preserve writing. Without permission, however, he copies by hand a rare book of the Psalms owned by Finnian.

When a dispute arises over who owns the copy, Diarmait, Ireland’s high king, rules in favor of Finnian. Columbcille’s angry clan goes to war against Diarmait. Although Columcille’s side wins, he repents and sadly leaves Ireland forever.

Columcille sets sail for Scotland and builds there the great monastery of Iona — a monastery known for its books and love of learning. Ages 6 to 10.

Kerry Crawford writes

from Pittsburgh.

Patricia A. Crawford

writes from Steubenville, Ohio.