Modern Ireland: Book Recommendations
Middle Grade, Part 2
Check our Part 1 here!
We’re back with more recommendations for the middle readers in your life, meaning kids around 8 to 12. (Though every reader differs and we’ll always advocate for adults reading all possible levels.) From nonfiction to fantastical, from the 1800s to modern day, these picks are sure to keep your middle grade reader busy over Thanksgiving Break. They might even learn a thing or two about Ireland while they’re at it. (Or just delve into a new fantasy world—anything to get them reading!)
1. The Hunger, Carol Drinkwater
Subtitled “My Story: An Irish Girl’s Diary 1845-47,” The Hunger is told through the voice of Phyllis McCormack, a 14-year-old Irish girl living through The Great Famine. The narrative follows Phyllis as her family struggles to not just keep food on the table, but survive the potato blight entirely. With her radical brother off to fight for an Irish free state and the rights of the Irish people, Phyllis goes out to work as a maid to help feed her parents and beloved dog (even as her brother’s actions cause Phyllis’s family to be watched and questioned by authorities.) Drinkwater doesn’t spare the reader from the horrors of true poverty, loss, and needing to grow up too fast, but she does balance it by emphasizing Phyllis’s resilience, big heart, and helpings of both familial and romantic love. A tragic story, but a beautiful one.
2. The Star-Spun Web, Sinéad O’Hart
Calling all fantasy lovers! Described by one reviewer as “His Dark Materials for children” (though we’d argue that those books are for both middle readers and adults!), The Star Spun Web follows orphaned, science-loving Tess de Sousa and her pet tarantula Violet on an amazing adventure. When a previously unknown, distant relative arrives at Ackerbee’s Home for Lost and Foundlings to take Tess to her new home at Roedeer Lodge, Tess’s life is turned upside down. The mysterious Norton F. Cleat seems to know more about Tess’s life before the orphanage than Tess does—including what to do with the star-shaped device Tess had with her when she was abandoned as an infant. Small spoiler alert: the Starspinner can open a door into a parallel world that’s in big trouble, and it may be up to Tess to help. Want to know more? Read an interview about the book with the author here!
3. Cave of Secrets, Morgan Llywelyn
Llywelyn’s tale of pirates in 17th century Ireland follows a thirteen-year-old boy named Tom Flynn as it balances an engaging narrative with historical detail. Feeling unwanted by his family as his father goes off to Dublin to try to keep his land and money safe in the shifting political climate, Tom likes to escape to the beautiful Roaringwater Bay in West Cork to hide among the cliffs and caves. There, he meets Donal and his little sister Maura, whose family keeps to the traditional Irish way of life despite all the English laws in place forbidding it–making their living under the radar of authorities by smuggling. Donal opens Tom’s eyes to the realities of English-Irish relations (Tom and Donal are even based off real people!) as Llywelyn weaves a story of buried treasure, family, and forgiveness.
4. Rocking the System, Siobhán Parkinson
Subtitled “Fearless and Amazing Irish Women Who Made History,” this is our only fully non-fiction pick this week. Geared to appeal to readers from 9-12, Rocking the System contains 20 beautifully illustrated essays about both historical and contemporary Irish women who defied the odds. There’s the story of strong-willed and legendary Queen Meadhbh who ruled Ireland for 60 years during the Ulster cycle of Irish mythology, of architect and furniture designer Eileen Grey who pioneered Modernism in male-dominated fields, of politician and suffragette Constance Markievicz who was the first female cabinet member in all of Europe, and of track and field groundbreaker and record-breaker Sonia O’Sullivan, among many more. This book was published to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage in Ireland and covers everyone from artists and writers to activists and stateswomen—rebels all!
5. The Easter Rising 1916: Molly’s Diary, Patricia Murphy
We’ve got a second recommendation tonight that’s told as a diary of a young girl living through a historic time period (Just like…anyone else remember the Dear America books from the ‘90s? They were a favorite!) Molly’s Diary covers the events of the Easter Rising of 1916—when many Irish nationalist refused to fight on behalf of the British in WWI and instead rebel against the crown. Molly’s family is caught squarely in the crossfire: while Molly’s father works for the government repairing telegraph lines in dangerous Dublin, her brother runs messages for the rebel forces, and Molly aids both sides by training in first aid. Molly’s there to witness it all and tell your middle reader what it was like in an easy, accessible style—from looting and rioting to heroism and idealism, from the Proclamation at the GPO and the Battle of Mount Street Bridge to the arrival of British forces. Murphy (and Molly!) really help history come alive.
This post is part of a series. Check out our last Modern Ireland post, all about the University of Limerick, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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