The Luck of the Irish: Books for St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is a terrible holiday for storytime.  Sure, there are several picture books about leprechauns and lots of adapted Irish folk tales, but they are almost all far too long to read to a preschool or toddler group.   Often I end up making it a “green” theme for that age group.  That was what I had originally planned for this week too, but instead of Family Storytime, we had a guest from the Spindrift School of Performing Arts lead a Movement and Music class, so I was off the hook.

This week though, I read to two classes of second graders, so I finally got to share the longer books.  It was actually a lot of fun.  The kids seemed to enjoy all of them (they’ve gotten in the habit of voting for their favorites at the end, and each of the books got a fair number of votes).  Plus I got to try out my Irish accent (admittedly I was a bit nervous to learn that one of the teachers was a first generation Irish-American, whose parents immigrated here before she was born).  Luckily she didn’t seem offended.  (By the way, if you enjoy playing around with accents, my friend Mai recently sent me this link from the BBC, where a dialect coach named Andrew Jack gives a quick overview of different accents across the UK).

These are the books I read:


The Last Snake in Ireland by Sheila MacGill-Callahan; illustrated by Will Hillenbrand ( link)

An original story about St. Patrick’s attempts to rid Ireland of its last snake.  After trying to trick, and then capture, the snake in a wooden box, St. Patrick saves it from a eagle, and finally drops it into Loch Ness in Scotland, where it grows into the Loch Ness Monster.  It’s hard to find a book about St. Patrick that doesn’t delve too much into theology (always a bit risky in a public school or library setting), so this was a fun way to represent him.  Many of the kids, especially the boys, said this book was their favorite.


Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato by Tomie DePaola ( link)

Based on an Irish folk tale that DePaola heard from his grandfather, this is the story of Jamie O’Rourke, a man so lazy he would never lift a finger to help feed himself and his wife.  Then one day, he captures a leprechaun, who tricks him into accepting a potato seed instead of his pot of gold.  Jamie plants the seed, and grows the biggest potato in the world.  The whole town ends up eating it all winter long, until everyone is so sick of potatoes that they offer to keep Jamie and his wife supplied with food all year, as long as Jamie O’Rourke doesn’t plant another potato seed.  It would be fun to do a planting activity along with this book, and let the kids plant potato eyes to grow their own potatoes.


Lucky O’Leprechaun in School by Jana Dillon ( link)

Someone is eating bites out of the cupcakes and cookies in Mr. Eliot’s classroom.  The kids suspect the new kid, Kevin O’Malley, until they discover there’s a leprechaun hiding in the ceiling.  Kevin helps them catch the naughty thief, and makes him promise to grant them one wish: a field trip to the moon.  The kids really enjoyed this one, and spent several minutes afterwards talking about what they would wish for: mostly they wanted money or infinite wishes.  This one actually is short enough to share with preschoolers, and I have read it at library storytimes in the past.  It is also one of a series of books about Lucky O’Leprechaun.


King Puck by Michael Garland ( link)

A lonely man lives in the mountains with only his books, the fairies, and his goat Finny for company.  Until one day the fairies enchant his goat to make him talk.  The two head off to the fair in Killorglin, where Finny is crowned King Puck for a day, and granted one wish: more books to read.  This book was a huge hit, mostly because of the illustrations.  The kids kept commenting on how they “almost look real” (they are computer-generated), and they loved pointing out the fairies hiding on each page.  The note at the back of the book explains about the history of the King Puck contest, which really is held every year in Killorglin.  The girls especially liked this one, and I think it would probably work for a preschool storytime.


The Hungry Leprechaun by Mary Calhoun and Roger Duvoisin ( link)

An original story about a hungry man who finds an even hungrier leprechaun.  The man, Patrick O’Callahan, badgers the leprechaun into trying to conjure up some gold, but the leprechaun has forgotten how to do magic.  His attempts to make gold out of dandelion soup and the sunbeams on the floor yield them nothing but a puddle full of frogs, but when he tries to enchant the rocks, they turn into something white and tasty that feeds them both and everyone else.  The kids liked the part where the leprechaun says something like, “We boiled them in a POT and ATE them.  We should call them POT-ATE-o’s.”  Several kids commented on how only every other page is in color, and the color is limited, which gave me a chance to discuss how printing in color used to be expensive, and was usually used sparingly (this book was published in 1962, and unfortunately appears to be out of print).

What are your favorite books for Saint Patrick’s Day?