Knockabeg: A Famine Tale - Reviews

From VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

If it's an Irish experience ye'd be wanting, then pull a creepy (three-legged stool) to the peat fire and listen as the seanchai (storyteller) spins this tale of how bad faeries caused the nineteenth-century potato blight while good faeries fought them. The Nuckelavees, the baddies, live in a smokestack in East Isle, which they have ruined with their wickedness. They want to take over the rural West Isle from the goodies, called the Trooping Ones, and the humans, both good and bad, who live there. So Nuckelavees blight the potato crop, causing death and destruction. Reluctantly, the Trooping Ones go to war against the Nuckelavees, hoping to save all. According to the Laws of Trooping Faery Physics, these faeries cannot fight without a mortal at their side nor eat unless fed by mortals. So they whisk ten-year-old Eamon of Knockabeg, whose father has recently drowned and whose family is starving, to help them in battle. He proves himself brave and skillful, and the baddies are set back temporarily. Far from trivializing the tragedy of the Irish potato famine, the story brings it into focus by depicting children going to bed with gnawing hunger, adults wasting away, and a village with insufficient coffins to bury its dead. Historical detail is woven in neatly, with villagers subsisting on boiled seaweed and beetle larva from creeks and two hundred children crowding a schoolhouse because food had been promised. The story is full of Irishisms and requires a glossary for some Gaelic words and faery expressions. One can hear the storyteller's brogue. This book is great fun for faery lovers, with a history lesson to boot. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Houghton Mifflin, 128p, $15. Ages 11 to 15. Reviewer: Florence H. Munat


From Kirkus Reviews

An author of historical fiction and nonfiction tries her hand in the faery world. The Good People or Trooping Faeries declare war on their enemies when they discover the evil Nuckelavees' plan to take over all of Ireland by ruining the potato crop. Without potatoes as a food source, the mortal families won't have food to leave out for the faeries, the humans and faeries will starve, and both will have to abandon the land to the Nuckelavees. Lyons's human and spirit characters have distinct personalities, which serve to invest readers in caring about the survival of the faeries in the various battle scenes. Most interesting of all is Sticky, an oddly mysterious faery who is revealed to be an evil Solitary One serving out a five-year punishment among the Good People. She holds the fate of both the Trooping Faeries and the mortal family she loves in her hands, and not until the somewhat suspenseful end do readers discover whether Sticky will do the right thing. Narrated by a seanchai-Gaelic for "storyteller"-this contains many colloquial expressions, some of which are defined in the glossary. Try giving this to lovers of historical fiction or fantasy; paired with Patricia Reilly Giff's Nory Ryan's Song (2000), readers will gain another perspective on the 19th-century's Irish potato famine. (glossary, laws of Trooping Faeries physics, author's note) (Fiction. 9-12)

From Booklist

Gr. 4-7. "Who amongst us can measure the pain of starvation? The hungry are too weak to tell of it. The well-fed are too comfortable to imagine it. But two faeries knew, they did indeed." Lyons' lyrical storytelling voice drives this story of hunger and magic during the Irish potato famine. The tale is revealed through the viewpoint of the faeries, who need and nurture the people of Knockabeg but cannot save the mortals from oppression and grief. Neither cute nor sweetly benevolent, the faeries are individuals, as silly and hateful, brave and loving as the humans who are dying. The faeries' tribal battle with the barbarous Nuckelavees, who are spreading the blight, frames the realistic human drama and distances the horror of it. Read this aloud for the fantasy and to talk about the history of the Great Hunger, which drove millions from Ireland in the nineteenth century. For older readers who want to know more, connect this with Susan Bartoletti's Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine [BKL O 1 01]. Hazel Rochman Copyright American Library Association. All rights reserved.

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