Books can be a wonderful way of introducing children to cultures and traditions around the world. Folktales are special because they give us insight to the way people lived many years ago. Irish folktales are especially fun to read around Saint Patrick’s Day because young children greatly enjoy stories of leprechauns, rainbows, and pots of gold. In honor of the holiday, I have chosen three of our favorite Irish stories for children.
Tim O’Toole and the Wee Folk, told and illustrated by Gerald McDermott
Tim O’Toole and his wife Kathleen live in a little house at the end of a little lane in Donegal. They are so poor that even the mice in the walls are too skinny for their cat to bother chasing. One day after Tim goes out in search of work, he sits down to rest and stumbles across a group of “wee folk” (an Irish term for leprechauns). Tim is sure his luck has changed, since anyone who sees them in the light of day can demand their treasure. To his great disappointment, each treasure they give him turns out to be a dud once he returns home: a magic goose refuses to lay any golden eggs and a magic tablecloth won’t produce the piles of food he’d been promised. Will Tim ever receive the good fortune the wee folk have promised to give him?
Tim O’Toole and the Wee Folk is published by the Penguin Group and recommended for grades kindergarten through third. Readers will enjoy the bright and whimsical illustrations of the Irish countryside, and the jolly faces of the characters throughout.
The Leprechaun’s Gold, written by Pamela Duncan Edwards and illustrated by Henry Cole.
The Leprechaun’s Gold is a story of two Irish harpists, Old Pat and Young Tom. Old Pat is a kind man, humble and willing to play his music even for those who cannot afford to pay him in return. Young Tom learns to play the harp from Old Pat, but where Old Pat is wise and generous, Young Tom is greedy and boastful. When the King of Ireland announces a contest to find the best harpist in the land, the men travel to the castle together to try their luck. Fearing that he might lose to Old Pat, Young Tom secretly snaps a string on Pat’s harp, knowing the old man won’t have the means to replace it. That night, their journey is interrupted when a cry of “help!” rings out in the darkness. Young Tom refuses to investigate, fearing a leprechaun’s trick, but Old Pat goes to help. Will Old Pat suffer a cruel fate for his kindness or find luck as his reward?
The Leprechaun’s Gold is published by Harper Trophy for Harper Collins and is recommended for ages 4 to 7. The tale contains a lesson, as most folktales do, and the illustrations capture a wide range of emotion with charming simplicity.
O’Sullivan Stew, written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott.
Kate O’Sullivan was known for her way with words. When her town suffers a series of disasters after offending the local witch, Kate convinces her father and brothers to help her steal the witch’s horse back from the king, hoping the curse will be lifted for their kindness. When they are caught and brought to trial before the king, Kate uses her gift of gab to win each of them their freedom, weaving one unbelievable tale after another. Leprechauns, sea monsters, fearsome wild cats, and giants – the story is full of excitement, adventure, and a surprise twist at the end. Talbot’s illustrations are spectacular: bright in color, heaped with detail, and as exciting as the storyline. This is certain to become a family favorite.
O’Sullivan Stew is published by Penguin Books and recommended for ages kindergarten through fourth grade.
Jennifer S. (she/her) is a graduate of Fresno State University. She spent a number of years working for non-profits before becoming a full-time stay-at-home mother. She currently lives in Central California with her husband, two children, and two codependent cats.