I wanted to add a few more lesson ideas but I am on a borrowed computer and it is really driving me nuts!
Under the Hawthorne Tree by Marita Conlon-McKenna The story centres around the O’Driscolls, the average Irish family who are tenant farmers, dependent on potatoes as their main source of food. Tragedy strikes in the form of “the Blight” – a disease that destroys the potato crops – and what ensues is extensive starvation.
Eily (who is 12), Michael (10) and Peggy (7) O’Driscoll have coped with heartbreak upon heartbreak. Their parents left to find work but have gone missing and their baby sister Bridget is dead and buried under the hawthorne tree. Their village is devastated and farmers are being evicted by the landowners. Surrounded by disaster and the threat of being sent to the workhouse, the children are determined to survive and stay together. Armed with nothing but courage and love, they embark on a perilous journey across Ireland to find their great-aunts, Nano and Lena, whom they have only heard about in their mother’s stories…
Wildflower Girl by Marita Conlon-McKenna The sequel to Under the Hawthorne Tree sees Eily, Michael and Peggy alive and well six years later in Castletaggart. Aunt Lena is now dead and the girls and Aunt Nano try to eke out a living at the bake shop. However, times are hard – many inhabitants of Castletaggart have either died in the Great Famine or have left. Aunt Lena’s landlord decides to sell his property and move to Dublin and offers to pay for the family to go to America. However, Nano is too old to travel; Eily has accepted a marriage proposal and Michael gets a job in a stable. Young Peggy, all of thirteen, decides to take her chances and migrate for a better life. She braves horrifying conditions on the journey across the Atlantic. Life isn’t much easier in the promised land – she gets a job in a lodging house but is abused by the drunken proprietor. As a maid in a large house, she toils endlessly and is not given even facilities for a bath. Still, Peggy’s spirit shines through…
Fields of Home by Marita Conlon-McKenna the third and final volume of the Children of the Famine trilogy. The O’Driscoll siblings plod on in trying to build better lives. Eily and her husband are tenant farmers but there are rumours that their rents are being raised. She witnesses an old woman being evicted as she is unable to pay the rent. Michael seems happy enough working in the stables and is even riding in races. However, the Big House is set on fire and completely razed. No one knows who the culprit is but Michael’s employers move to England and so he is out of a job. Peggy, in Boston, continues to work hard but is lonely, especially after her friend Kitty gets a job elsewhere…
The Hunger: The Diary of Phyllis McCormack, Ireland, 1845-1847 (My Story series) by Carol Drinkwater One of a series of historical novels for children published by Scholastic UK. Each book is written in the form of the diary of a fictional young woman or man living during an important event in history. In “The Hunger”, we meet Phylly, a 14-year-old girl who documents her dreams and struggles. She has a job as a scullery maid at the absentee landlord’s house. She and her family get by but when disease strikes the potato crop, Ireland is plunged into famine. Phylly struggles to keep her courage up. Her rebel brother is wanted; she loses her family when they are evicted and she hardly dares to hope that the landlord’s son, Edward, could care for her, an uneducated maid… Will life ever get better?
I found the notes and background information tremendously useful. We learnt about the conflict between the Catholics and Protestants and English and Irish, Irish history and the key figures. (I censored the bits about Edward and Phylly when reading to my daughter.)
Twist of Gold by Michael Morpurgo My elder daughter loves Michael Morpurgo and was excited when she found out he had written a book about the Potato Famine. Ireland is ravaged by famine and disease and Sean (13) and Annie (10) O’Brien have already lost three siblings. Their father had gone to America promising to send for them later but they have not received any news from him. Their mother lies dying. Rather than see her children starve to death, she tells them to leave for America to search for their father. With her prayers, the cloak of a kindly British dragoon, and a gold torc (a family heirloom), Sean and Annie make the perilous journey across the Atlantic. Theirs is a story of survival and they meet many characters along the way – two kind Bostonians sisters, a (born free) black man, born free, an evil bounty hunter; a charming riverboat captain, a former Civil War colonel; pioneers and also a fellow Irishman who is a gold prospector. Will they find their father? Will they be able to build a new life?
Nory Ryan’s Song by Patricia Reilly Giff As the story opens, Nory shares dulse (a seaweed) with her friend Sean Red Mallon. Although disease has not struck the potatoes yet, the spectre of famine looms. “I was so hungry,” she says – an omen of even harder times to come. When the crops fail, farmers and their families who cannot pay the rent. Nory makes it her mission to help her friend Cat Neely and her widowed mother, who are being turned out. Her plan is to get a gold coin from the Anna Donnelly, the village healer… Nory’s determination and love for her friends and family make this book a touching and worthwhile read.
Katie’s Wish by Barbara Shook Hazen Katie, whose mother has passed away, has been left in the care of her grandparents. It has been two Christmases since her father left for America and she can hardly wait to join him. When served plain, boiled potatoes for what must be umpteenth time, Katie mutters, “I wish they’d go away.” Her wish seems to be granted when the potato crops are afflicted with a disease and turn black and rot. As potatoes are the main source of sustenance for the poor Irish folk, the people suffer horribly. Famine strikes and disease spreads. Katie is filled with guilt and is sure that her ungrateful wish caused the famine…
The watercolour pictures are expressive and evocative… I like Katie’s fiery red hair!
Useful Links -Ireland
- The History Place – complete 8-part history with period illustrations
- Digital History’s page on the Irish Potato Famine
- BBC History – The Irish Famine
- Ireland – The Great Famine
- The Great Irish Famine 1845-1850 (University at Albany)
- Famine Pictures
- Discovery Education – Forced to Flee
- 5th Grade Multicultural Lesson Plan