Clever Tom and the Leprechaun


Clever Tom and the Leprechaun by Linda Shute, 1988.

This picture book is based on an Irish folktale, The Field of Boliauns.

Tom Fitzpatrick thinks that his fortune is made when he is lucky enough to catch sight of a leprechaun one day.  If a person can manage to catch hold of a leprechaun and frighten him, the leprechaun will hand over his gold.  Tom thinks of himself as a clever man, so he doesn’t see how he could fail.


Tom does capture the leprechaun, and the leprechaun does promise to show him where his treasure is buried.  The leprechaun directs Tom to a field of boliauns (a kind of weed, also known as ragwort or ragweed) and points out the plant which marks the place where he buried his treasure.


Tom needs to get a shovel to dig for the treasure, but he worries about whether he’ll correctly remember the spot when he gets back.  He takes off one of his red garters and ties it on the plant so he’ll be able to find it again, making the leprechaun promise not to touch it while he’s gone.


The leprechaun promises not to touch the garter, but Clever Tom isn’t quite as clever as the leprechaun.  When Tom gets back to the field with his shovel, he’s in for an unpleasant surprise.


Clever Tom might not have his fortune made after all, but he has a great story to tell to the younger generation.


In the back of the book, there is a section with more information about the folk tale, Irish legends and leprechauns, and Irish culture and history.  One of the things I found interesting was the explanation that the leprechaun in the picture book is wearing a red coat because that’s how they are described in Irish folklore.  It’s usually the Trooping fairies who are described as wearing green, like we often see leprechauns depicted in St. Patrick’s Day decorations.  The stories of buried gold left by leprechauns may also may also be based on treasure hoards left by Viking raiders during the Early Middle Ages.  The leprechaun in this story also has ale made from heather, which is something that only Danish Vikings were said to know how to make.


Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport


Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, pictures by Byron Barton, 1980.

This is a humorous picture book about a boy moving from one side of the United States to the other and his misconceptions of what he’s going to find when he goes west.

At the beginning of the story, the boy lives in an apartment in  New York City.  As far as he’s concerned, he could live there forever, but his parents decide that they’re going to move “Out West.” (The book never really says what state they’re moving to, but it seems to be somewhere in the Southwestern United States, like Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona.)


The boy thinks he’s going to hate his new home.  He thinks of all the things that he’s heard about the West, like there’s cactus everywhere so you hardly know where to sit down, everyone dresses like a cowboy and rides horses everywhere, all he’ll ever get to eat is chili and beans, and he’s bound to die of heat exhaustion in the desert.  His best friend in New York, Seymour, told him that Gila monsters would meet him at the airport.


Of course, there aren’t any Gila monsters at the airport when the boy gets there.  Instead, he meets another boy whose family is moving East.  The two boys talk to each other for awhile, and the Western boy starts telling him that he’s not looking forward to heading East because he’s heard that it’s always cold there, the cities are overcrowded and full of gangsters, the buildings are so tall that airplanes fly through the apartments, and there are alligators in the sewers.  He expects to find alligators waiting for him at the airport.


Of course, things aren’t as bad as either boy is expecting.  The boy from New York realizes that Seymour and his other friends back East don’t know much about the West, and he starts realizing that things in his new home are actually pretty good, some of them not all that different from home.


This book was featured on Reading Rainbow.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day


Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, 1972.

Everything is going wrong for Alexander today, from the very moment when he wakes up.  When he wakes up with gum in his hair and trips on his skateboard getting out of bed, he can tell that this isn’t going to be a good day at all.


From getting crammed into the middle seat on the way to school to getting things wrong in class to fights with friends, things just get worse as the day goes on.  He sees other people getting good things and doing things right, but nothing works for him.


His bad luck continues all day long, right up to when he goes to bed.  His mother consoles him a little, saying that “some days are like that.”  Alexander threatens to run off to Australia to get away from everything that’s bothering him, but it won’t work because people can have bad days anywhere, even in Australia.


The book doesn’t offer any real tips to avoiding bad days, mostly just sympathy, showing that bad days can happen to anyone, and they usually do at some point.  Sometimes, there’s nothing to be done about it except try to get through the day as best you can and hope that tomorrow will be better.  Readers can sympathize with Alexander because his problems are the kind of problems that everyone has had at some point, from little things like seeing siblings and friends get treats that he can’t share in to things like fights and cavities at the dentist.


There is a movie based on the book, but, of course, it’s a much longer story.  In the movie, when everything seems to be going wrong for Alexander and no one seems to care, he makes a wish that everyone could experience a day like the one he’s been having.  The next day, everyone in his family has everything going wrong for them.  It’s one chaotic event after another all day, but dealing with their problems together helps bring them closer.  In an odd sort of way, some of the pieces of bad luck end up working out for the best.

This book was also featured on Reading Rainbow.

Mrs. Armitage, Queen of the Road


Mrs. Armitage, Queen of the Road by Quentin Blake, 2003.

When Mrs. Armitage‘s Uncle Cosmo decides to get a new motorcycle, he lets her have his old car.  However, it isn’t in very good condition.


Mrs. Armitage and Breakspear decide to try it out, but as they drive along, pieces of the car fall off.  Some of it is because the car is in bad repair, and some is due to accidents Mrs. Armitage has.  First, the hubcabs, then the fenders fall off.  Mrs. Armitage shrugs it off , saying, “Who needs them?”


Eventually, the car goes almost entirely to pieces, but who needs it all?


When Uncle Cosmo shows up with his friends and their motorcycles, they help her fix up what’s left of the car into one amazing machine!


Mrs. Armitage and the Big Wave


Mrs. Armitage and the Big Wave by Quentin Blake, 1997.

Mrs. Armitage goes the beach with Breakspear in order to go surfing.  She explains to Breakspear that they have to swim out and wait for the “Big Wave.”  But, waiting takes longer that Mrs. Armitage expected, and soon Breakspear is tired, and they’re both hot.


Of course, Mrs. Armitage finds a solution for everything.  With an inflatable toy for Breakspear to ride on and some protective gear, they wait some more.  Needless to say, Mrs. Armitage doesn’t stop there.  As they wait for the perfect wave, there are plenty of other things that they need to keep themselves busy and make themselves more comfortable.


When the Big Wave finally comes, Mrs. Armitage not only makes an incredible show, but she also has what she needs to save a little girl who had swum out too far and needed to be rescued.


Mrs. Armitage on Wheels


Mrs. Armitage on Wheels by Quentin Blake, 1987.

Mrs. Armitage loves to ride her bicycle with her dog, Breakspear, running alongside.  However, she sometimes runs into difficulties that require some minor repairs to her bike, and she can’t resist the urge to tinker further.

The more she thinks about it, the more ideas for improvements she has.  Each idea starts with the words, “What this bike needs . . .”

But, Mrs. Armitage goes well beyond what the bike really needs.  Beyond adding a seat for her dog and room for her lunch, she gradually turns her bicycle into a crazy, unwieldy contraption.


Was adding the sail and anchor where she went too far, or did she reach that point long before?  Even after she trades what’s left of her bike for some skates, one has the feeling that her tinkering is far from over.


Changes for Addy

American Girls


Changes for Addy by Connie Porter, 1994.

Since the Civil War ended, most of Addy‘s family has managed to reunite in Philadelphia. The one person who is missing is Addy’s little sister, Esther.  When Addy and her mother escaped from the plantation where they had been living as slaves, they were forced to leave Esther behind with family friends because she was too little to travel.  Since the end of the war, slaves have been released from plantations, but the Walkers haven’t received any word from their friends, Auntie Lula and Uncle Solomon Morgan and don’t know where they or Esther are.

Over the past months, the Walker family has sent inquiries to various aid societies helping war victims and displaced people, asking if the Morgans or Esther have sought help from them.  Finally, they get a response from the Quaker Aid Society, saying that the Morgans and Esther were at one of their camps in North Carolina.  They stayed for awhile because Esther was ill, but as soon as she was well enough to travel, they were eager to move on to Philadelphia.

Addy is happy because the news means that the Morgans and Esther might already be in Philadelphia, looking for them.  However, Addy’s parents are still worried because the Morgans are elderly, and from what the letter said, they were not in good health.  The family makes further inquiries to see if they could be at any of the local hospitals.

Eventually, the search for the Morgans and Esther pays off when Addy finds them at a church.  Uncle Solomon passed away on the journey to Philadelphia, and Esther seems unsure of who the people in her family are because she was so little the last time she saw them.  Auntie Lula pressed on for Philadelphia because she wanted to make sure that Esther made it safely back to her family.  Auntie Lula is in bad health herself, and she knows that she isn’t likely to live much longer, making the reunion bittersweet.

AddyChangesProclamationHowever, Auntie Lula does get to spend a little time with the family before her death, and she tells Addy not to be sad.  People don’t always get everything they want in life, but they can take some pride in what they do accomplish.  Lula and Solomon may not have gotten everything they wanted in life, not having had much time to enjoy being freed from slavery, but they did get to accomplish what was most important to them.  Solomon died knowing that he was a free man, far from the plantation where he’d been a slave.  Lula managed to reunite Esther with her family.  From there, Lula says, she is depending on the young people, like Addy and her family, to make the most they can of their lives, hopes, and dreams.

The theme of this story is hope and the need to persevere with determination.  Life has its difficulties, and not every problem can be solved.  However, things can get better.  After the reunion with Esther, Addy points out to her mother that Esther wasn’t walking or talking when they last saw her, and they never got to experience seeing her learn.  Addy is sad at the time they’ve lost with Esther, which they can never recover.  However, because of Lula and Solomon’s determination to bring Esther to them, they will have many more years to come with Esther.  Addy’s mother also reminds Addy that those who love us never leave us.  Auntie Lula and Uncle Solomon changed the family’s lives for the better because of the good people they were, and their memory will stay with them forever.

In the back, there is a section of historical information about the end of the Civil War, the emancipation of the slaves, and it further explains how racial issues continued into the 20th century, leading to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.


Addy Saves the Day

American Girls


Addy Saves the Day by Connie Porter, 1994.

Now that the Civil War is over, families are looking forward to the soldiers returning home and reuniting with loved ones.  Some families have been split forever because loved ones died in the war.  Addy‘s family still doesn’t know what happened to her brother Sam or her little sister Esther.  She and her parents have been making inquiries at various aid societies that have been helping people who were sick, injured, or displaced by the war, but so far, they haven’t received any word about Sam or Esther.  To help raise more money for their search, they’ve started growing vegetables in a community garden that they can sell.

The Walkers aren’t the only family in this position, and their church has decided to hold a public fair to raise money for victims of the war and families in need.  Addy and Sarah are looking forward to taking part in the fair, but they are annoyed because they’ll have to work with bossy Harriet, a snobby girl from their school.  Harriet’s family is wealthier than most black families, and Harriet loves to brag about the things they have that others don’t.  Although many families, like Addy’s, are worried about not knowing where their relatives are or whether they are alive or dead, Harriet brags about knowing exactly which army unit her uncle is in and what a distinguished career he has had.  Harriet is eager to take part in the fair and tell the other children what to do, but her family doesn’t need any charity themselves.

Harriet tries to tell the children’s group at the church what they should do for their act at the fair, and it mainly involves her being the star of the show.  However, the group decides to take Addy’s suggestion instead.  They are going to make puppets out of old thread spools and put on a puppet show.  They can also sell some of the puppets they make.  Addy is proud that her idea was the one that the group chose because she thinks of it as a victory over snobby Harriet, but her parents remind her that the fair isn’t supposed to be a contest.

The purpose of the fair is to raise money to help people, and no one is supposed to compete with anyone.  If the act for the fair is going to be a success, Addy and Harriet will have to find a way of working together to make it happen.  When Harriet picks a fight with Addy while the children are making their puppets, the minister’s wife tells them that she’s going to make them work with each other at the puppet show, forcing them to sort out their differences.

It isn’t until Harriet receives some bad news that she comes to understand the pain that other families, like Addy’s, have been feeling, and Addy comes to see that, in the end, Harriet is just an ordinary person, a little girl with feelings that can be hurt.  With a new understanding of each other, the girls find the motivation that they need to work together and make the fair a success.  Then, when someone tries to steal their group’s hard-earned money, the two of them find a way to stop the thief and get the money back!

This is the book where Addy’s brother rejoins the family.  When he was freed from slavery, he joined the Union army and lost his arm to a battle wound.  He shows up at the fair and recognizes the jokes and riddles Addy tells at the puppet show as ones that he used to tell her.

In the back of the book, there is a section with historical information about the changes taking place in American society around the time of the Civil War with increased immigration and urbanization.  It describes public parks and monuments built after the war.  Since this book took place in summer, it also talks about what people would do in order to cool off from the summer heat.  Wealthier people would travel to resorts, but poorer people would make do with enjoying the relatively cool public parks, swimming (less so for women and girls than men and boys), and taking part in outdoor activities.  In all cases, the various summer activities were still segregated by race with separate areas in public parks and sports teams for black people.


Happy Birthday, Addy!

American Girls


Happy Birthday, Addy! by Connie Porter, 1994.

Things are improving for Addy and her mother now that her father has finally joined them in Philadelphia.  Addy’s father has found work delivering ice, so the family has been able to move to bigger rooms in a boarding house.  However, making a new life for themselves in freedom still isn’t easy.  Addy’s father worked as a carpenter on the plantation where they used to live, and he’d like to find steady work in carpentry, but he’s having trouble finding an employer who is willing to hire a black man.

Addy’s family might be free from slavery, but they are still not treated as equals to white people.  There are places where black people can’t go and things they aren’t supposed to do, like riding on most of the city streetcars.  It angers and upsets Addy, but she doesn’t know what she can do about it.  She isn’t the only one who feels that way, and there’s been talk of violence in the city over it.

The boarding house where Addy’s family now lives is owned by Mr. and Mrs. Golden.  Then, Mr. Golden’s elderly, blind mother moves in with them.  Affectionately called M’dear, she’s a pleasant lady and tells Addy interesting stories, jokingly saying that she’s so old that she “was there the day God invented dirt.”  When she asks Addy how old she is, Addy says that she’s nine but doesn’t know when her birthday is exactly.  It was common for slaves not to know their birthdays because their parents couldn’t read or write and no one else thought it was important to record the dates of their births.  M’dear tells her that she should claim a birthday for herself.



Addy’s parents think that choosing a birthday for herself is a good idea, and her father says that he will make ice cream for her new birthday.  He has found a broken ice cream freezer that someone threw out, and he’s fixing it up for the family to use.  However, Addy isn’t sure at first what day she wants to choose.

One day, M’dear is feeling poorly, and she’s out of headache medicine.  Addy and Sarah offer to go get more for her.  To get to the drug store, they get on board one of the streetcars that black people are allowed to ride, which can be dangerous because they have to ride on the outside.  Then, the man at the drug store makes them wait until he’s served the white customers, speaking rudely to them.  When they try to take the streetcar back home, there is an argument that ends with all of the black people being thrown off the streetcar.  When M’dear hears about what the girls went through, she offers some wise thoughts about how people have to continue living their lives and being themselves, no matter what difficulties life throws their way.



In the end, circumstances continue to improve for Addy’s family when her father finally finds the kind of work he’s been looking for and Addy finds a special day to claim as her birthday when the end of the Civil War is finally announced.

I liked M’Dear’s message that the way people are treated doesn’t really change who they are.  The black people in the story are treated badly not because of what they did so much as what other people think they are or want them to be.  However, what other people think doesn’t change the nature of reality.  No amount of bullying or thinking that someone else is inferior or telling them that they are inferior can actually make them be inferior.  It can make things hard and unpleasant for the other person, but it will never actually change the reality of who they are, and people who think it does delude themselves.  M’Dear may be blind, but she sees much more clearly that most because she understands the reality of the situation better than they do.  Addy’s father has trouble finding work because he is black, but the fact that potential employers don’t like his appearance doesn’t make him any less the craftsman he is.  He has all the skills he needs; he just needs someone who has the ability to notice them.

In the back of the book, there is a section with historical information about how children were raised during the Civil War with some special information about the lives of slave children.  It also talks about children helped to support the war effort.



Addy’s Surprise

American Girls


Addy’s Surprise by Connie Porter, 1993.

Christmas is coming, and although Addy and her mother have started to establish a new life for themselves in Philadelphia, they miss the rest of their family, whose whereabouts are still unknown.  Money is tight, and Addy’s mother is trying to save up for a new lamp for their room at Mrs. Ford’s.  Addy wants to buy her mother a pretty red scarf at the second-hand shop for Christmas, but saving up the tips she earns delivering packages for Mrs. Ford is slow.  Addy still wishes that they could afford beautiful dresses, like the rich women who visit the dress shop.One thing that Addy is looking forward to is the Christmas celebration at their church.  Her new friend, Sarah, has told her all about it.  She describes the potluck dinner, the beautiful decorations, and the shadow play they have to entertain the children.


Then, at church, the Reverend Drake tells everyone that more “freedmen,” people who have just come out of slavery, will be arriving in the city soon.  Reverend Drake asks the congregation to help, just as many of them received help when they first arrived.  Like Addy and her mother, these new people will be arriving with almost nothing, not knowing where to go and what to do, and will need money for food and clothes and places to live.  Addy and her mother decide that they want to help, although it means stretching their already-tight finances even tighter.

Addy is reluctant to part with the little money she’s been saving to buy the scarf for her mother, so she offers to help out in greeting the new arrivals and taking them to the church instead.  When Addy and Sarah go to the pier to meet them and guide them to the church, Addy feels badly at seeing the condition they are in.  This particular group is made up of slaves who were freed because the owner of their plantation was under pressure from the war.  He simply turned them loose with only the clothes on their backs and little idea of where to go or how to get help in establishing a new life.  Some of them are sick or injured, some have no shoes in the winter cold, and none of them have had enough to eat.  Addy reassures them that the church will help them.  The baby in the group particularly makes Addy think of her little sister, Esther, who is still in slavery in the South.  Addy begins to feel like the things she was worried about before, like dresses, a new lamp, and the scarf aren’t as important as she once thought they were.  When Addy has finally collected enough money for the scarf for her mother, she decides to donate the money to help the others instead.

It looks like Addy and her mother won’t be getting the special things that they had hoped for at Christmas, but Christmas is a time of surprises.  Through their own hard work, they’ve made some special friends in Philadelphia who care about them, and other, unexpected circumstances allow Addy to not only get the special Christmas dress she’s been dreaming of  (a customer returns a dress to the shop because her daughter can’t fit into it anymore) but to make a scarf of her own to replace the one that she was going to buy for her mother.  The Christmas party at the church is as wonderful as Addy expected, but there’s an even more wonderful surprise to come: Addy’s father has finally made it to Philadelphia!


I like the way Addy and her mother showed generosity and consideration to others in the story, even though they are also somewhat struggling themselves.  Through their own hard work and ingenuity, they manage to make their own Christmas presents with scraps from the dress shop, and Mrs. Ford shows her appreciation for their hard work by buying them the lamp they need.  Good things come to those who work for them!


There is a section in the back with historical information about Christmas celebrations around the time of the Civil War.  Because of the war, families weren’t always able to get or afford things they could before.  People sometimes raised money for soldiers or send them special care packages.  Slaves were allowed small celebrations, being released from work for a new days and given small gifts from the plantation owners.