Fiona’s Luck by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Kelly Murphy, published by Charlesbridge, Watertown, MA, 2007
Set in Ireland in the 19th century, Fiona relies on her wits to best the Leprechaun King. Written in beautiful, rhythmic prose, the clever twist at the end as Fiona outwits the King is a pleasure every time. The illustrations are characterful and enhance the story. Once we’d read the story a few times, the children could start spotting what was going on in the pictures and be ‘in’ on the trick with Fiona. Even the little one, with a bit of prompting. There are lovely moments of magic and reflection in the prose and the final line is a good adage to live by.
For our son, it was also a way into talking about the Great Hunger/Potato Famine and some Irish history. We often find that books lead us off onto other tangents. Once the story was familiar, we could start to talk about the setting, and how much it was rooted in history and how much was real. The line between real life and story is one that we spend a lot of time looking at, pondering, walking round to view from different angles.
The publisher is based in Watertown, MA, and not far from there, on Cambridge Common in Cambridge, MA, there is a statue to the Great Hunger, unveiled by Mary Robinson. Our son is wholly intrigued by public art and statues. Maybe it’s how big they are. He always wants to know who it is, what’s going on, why are so many of them on horses (thanks, London). He’ll walk further if there’s a statue to investigate at the other end. Having read Fiona’s Luck gave us a hook for him to situate the statue, the story and the history linking them together in his head. Yet again a book provided a place to start difficult but necessary conversations – even if I need to read more myself before I can answer all his questions.