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Lyons Den Books

A Famine Tale

(Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001, ISBN: 0-618-09283-8.)

Jacket art ©2001 by Marc Yankus.

    The Queen of Trooping Ones removed her glasses. She squinted hard at the crowd. Ach! Would they never grow up, these faeries of hers?
     “Look under the coats that humans wear to market. You will see only rags. And under the rags, no more flesh than that of a wren. If they starve, who will leave a crust of bread on the windowsill to fill your bellies?”

The mortals of Knockabeg have suffered through potato famines before, but never one caused by a Destruction Curse. Now the selfish faeries hold the fate of the village in their wee hands. Only they can defeat the silver-winged enemies who laid the curse. Armed with sky-nets and darts, the Trooping Ones gallop through the clouds to do battle. Against a wild Celtic background of sea and sky, Mary E. Lyons tells a captivating story of magic, high adventure, and the tricky ways of love.

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Trooping faeries are about two feet tall. They wear belled red caps with owl feathers, and have potbellies except in famine times. When going to war, they carry a squirrel-skin pouch stuffed with faery darts.

The queen of the Trooping Faeries is a bit taller than most. She wears a spangled cape and eyeglasses.

Mungo, Wink, and Jam are the queen’s Steps. As members of her High Council, each wears a scarlet cape with his initial embroidered on the lapel. Mungo is handsome, Wink wears a checked vest, and Jam is rather roly-poly.

Sticky is shorter than most Trooping Faeries. As High Council member-at-large, she also wears a cape embroidered with her initial. But she doesn’t look quite like the other Trooping Ones. She’s only a foot tall, her hair is chopped off, and she wears gloves of dried sea foam. She carries a rose thorn needle and a silver comb.


Look at the cover of Knockabeg. Pretend the lights are faeries from the book. Could one of them be the queen? Sticky? Mungo, Wink, or Jam? Use a yellow crayon or marker to draw similar lights on a piece of blank paper. Label each light with the name of one of the characters.


Faeries make use of small things found outdoors. In Knockabeg, for example, they drink from acorn cups, build tents from bark, and carry umbrellas made of the wild flower known as Queen Anne’s Lace.

Walk through your yard or neighborhood and collect items that faeries might use, such as twigs, leaves, pebbles, feathers, and wildflowers. Build a faery village using what you’ve found. Remember that Knockabeg faeries live under bushes, inside mountains, or within a shelter made of rocks.

Warning! Mushrooms found outdoors can be poisonous to humans. Don’t touch them or use them for your faery village. And be sure to wash your hands at the end of this activity.


Some flowers, mushrooms, and even birds are named after faeries. Look in the dictionary under fairy or faery and notice how many are listed. For example, you’ll see that the flower known as foxglove is also called a fairy cap, fairy bell, fairy finger, or fairy glove. View a picture of a foxglove blossom.


Knockabeg: A Famine Tale is based on stories that the Irish told about faeries helping human beings during Ireland’s worst famine. Sometimes called the Great Hunger, the famine led to the death of millions of people who died of starvation after potato crops rotted on the vine.

Photographs help us understand the horrors of American slavery and the Jewish Holocaust. Yet no photograph of Ireland’s worst famine is known to exist. One Irish newspaperman made this sketch when he traveled through the stricken country in 1847. The children are desperate for something to eat. Perhaps they're looking for a potato that hasn't turned black yet. Or they may be picking weeds and grass to eat. Sometimes the starving Irish even ate beetle larvae.

Right-click on the image with your mouse and choose print. After you’ve printed the image, try to imagine how these children feel. What could they be thinking? Write their thoughts below the picture.








          Boy and Girl at Cahera