Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On leprechauns and other little people

If you read my post entitled Ready for battle: history for kids you probably know how much I value sharing history and heritage with children. As we approach St. Patrick's Day, I've been wondering about what the average American child thinks about the holiday. Often those with Irish heritage know as little as those without it.

I wasn't encouraged when I went looking for children's books about St. Patrick's Day. Craft books on the holiday were harder to come by than I had hoped, and when I did find them I was often dismayed. Potato sock puppets, shamrock-shaped mice, and stuffed leprechauns just don't do St. Patrick justice. Nor do snacks-of-all-sorts dolled up with green food coloring.

Is that the primary exposure that American children are getting to the history and culture of Ireland?

In my search for ideas to share with children on St. Patricks' Day, I did find a few appealing resources.

Gail Gibbons' book St. Patrick's Day' is a simply illustrated introduction to St. Patrick, the holiday which carries his name, and various Irish cultural icons. The reader meets the brave young boy who was kidnapped and forced to work as a shepherd across the sea in Ireland, whose people he would some day shepherd in faith. The book's simple introduction to St. Patrick, a few of the legends surrounding him, and to shillelaghs, harps and modern St. Patrick's Day celebrations is a good start.

St. Patrick's Day: Parades, Shamrocks, and Leprechauns by Elaine Landau is another nice resource to share with children regarding all the fuss on each March 17. It gives a much more detailed story of Patrick and his road to sainthood, and covers various legends and symbols of Ireland in detail.

Shamrocks, Harps, and Shillelaghs: The Story of the St. Patrick's Day Symbols by Edna Barth is one of a series of books for kids on holiday celebrations. It's a fun look at St. Patrick's Day and the origin of some well-known Irish traditions and symbols.

S Is for Shamrock: An Ireland Alphabet by Eve Bunting is a creative look at Ireland's culture via the ABCs. You can also find a fun teachers' guide to the book online. My favorite activity is writing "Fairy Ring poetry".

Along similar lines is Look What Came From Ireland by Miles Harvey. Using photographs and illustrations the book introduces children to the geography and culture of the Emerald Isle.

I hope this post has inspired you to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with the children in your life. Why not share a few cookies together while wearing your green and reading a good book on Irish culture? I guess it wouldn't hurt if you iced the cookies the right color.

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