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  • Written by Patricia Reilly Giff
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  • Written by Patricia Reilly Giff
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On Sale: February 19, 2009
Pages: 176 | ISBN: 978-0-307-53898-7
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Synopsis

Nory Ryan's family has lived on Maidin Bay on the west coast of Ireland for generations, raising a pig and a few chickens, planting potatoes, getting by. Every year Nory's father goes away on a fishing boat and returns with the rent money for the English lord who owns their cottage and fields, the English lord bent upon forcing the Irish from their land so he can tumble the cottages and clear the fields for grazing. Times are never easy on Maidin Bay, but this year, a terrible blight attacks the potatoes. No crop means starvation. Twelve-year-old Nory must summon the courage and ingenuity to find food, to find hope, to find a way to help her family survive.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Someone was calling.

        "Nor-ry. Nor-ry Ryan."

        I was halfway along the cliff road. With the mist coming up from the sea, everything on the path below had disappeared.

        "Wait, Nory."

        I stopped. "Sean Red Mallon?" I called back, hearing his footsteps now.

        "I have something for us," he said as he reached me. He pulled a crumpled bit of seaweed out of his pocket to dangle in front of my nose.

        "Dulse." I took a breath. The smell of the sea was in it salty and sweet. I was so hungry I could almost feel the taste of it on my tongue.

        "Shall we eat it here?" he asked, grinning, his red hair a mop on his forehead.

        "It'll be over and gone in no time," I said, and pointed up. "We'll go to Patrick's Well."

        We reached the top of the cliffs with the rain on our heads. "I am Queen Maeve," I sang, twirling away from the edge. "Queen of old Ireland."

        I loved the sound of my voice in the fog, but then I loved anything that had to do with music: the Ballilee church bells tolling, the rain pattering on the stones, even the carra-crack of the gannets calling as they flew overhead.

        I scrambled up to Mary's Rock. As the wind tore the mist into shreds, I could see the sea, gray as a selkie's coat, stretching itself from Ireland to Brooklyn, New York, America.


        Sean came up in back of me. "We will be there one day in Brooklyn."
        I nodded, but I couldn't imagine it. Free in Brooklyn. Sean's sister, Mary Mallon, was there right now. Someone had written a letter for her, and Father Harte had read it to us. Horses clopped down the road, she said, bringing milk in huge cans. And no one was ever hungry. Even the sound of it was wonderful. Brook-lyn.

        The rain ran along the ends of my hair and into my neck. I shook my head to make the drops fly and thought of my da on a ship, the rain running down his long dark hair too. Da, who was far away, fishing to pay the rent. He had been gone for weeks, and it would be months before he came home again.

        I swallowed, wishing for Da so hard I had to turn my head to hide my face from Sean. I blew a secret kiss across the waves; then we picked our way up the steep little path to Patrick's Well.

        We sat ourselves down on one of the flat stones around the well and leaned over to look into the water. People with money threw in coins to sink to the bottom. Granda said that might be why it took so long for those prayers to be answered.
        But not many people had coins to drop into the well. Instead there was the tree overhead. People tied their prayers to the branches: a piece of tattered skirt, the edge of a collar.

        "I see my mother's apron string." Sean pointed up as he tore a bit of dulse in two and handed me half.

        I nodded, sucking on a curly edge. I looked up at the tree. A strip of my middle sister Celia's shift was hanging there. Now, what did that one want? She had no shame. There it was, a piece of her underwear left to wag in the wind until it rotted away. Every creature who walked by would be gaping at it.

        I stood up quickly, moving around to the other side of the well to look down at our glen. The potato fields were covered with purple blossoms now, and stone walls zigzagged up and down between them.

        And then, something else.


        "Sean," I said, "what's happening down there?"
        Absently he tore the last bit of dulse in two. "Men," he said slowly. "Bailiffs with a battering ram. Someone is being put out of a house."

        Someone. I knew who it was. A quick flash of the beggar, Cat Neely, her curly hair covering most of her face. And Cat's mother, who sat in their yard, teeth gone, cheeks sunken, with no money to pay the rent.

        "Don't think about it," Sean said, his hand on my shoulder, his face sad. "There's nothing can be done."

        "Coins," I said. "If only someone—" I broke off. I knew it myself. No one in the glen had an extra penny. Not Sean's family. Not mine. My older sister Maggie and Sean's brother Francey were saving every bit they could to get married. But even that would take years.

        The dulse on my tongue tasted bitter now. Cunningham, the English lord, owned all our land, all our houses; he could put any of us out if he wanted. And now it would be Cat and her mother.

        There was someone with a coin, I knew that.

        Anna Donnelly.

        Sean and I were afraid of her. He had said that one of the sidhe might live under her table. I shuddered, thinking of those beings from the other world. Tangles of gray hair, bony fingers pointing, crouched in the darkness. Anna had her magic, too. She could heal up a wen on the finger, or straighten a bone with her weeds, but only when she wanted to.

        And she hadn't saved my mam the day my little brother, Patch, was born.

        That Anna Donnelly had a coin.        

        And I was the only one that knew about it.

        I thought of the day I had stopped near her house. The thatch on her roof was old and plants grew green over the top. And there was Anna outside, teetering on a stool, her white hair in wisps around the edge of her cap. She had peered over her shoulder, her face as wrinkled as last year's potatoes, then held something up before she shoved it deep into the thatch.

        I had seen the glint of it, the shine.

        The coin.        

        And in my mind now: I could save Cat Neely and her mother. If only Anna would give me that coin.

        Suddenly my mouth was dry.

        I turned to Sean. "Thank you for the dulse," I said, and left him there, mouth open, as I flew down the path away from the cliff.                 


From the Hardcover edition.
Patricia Reilly Giff

About Patricia Reilly Giff

Patricia Reilly Giff - Nory Ryan's Song
“I want to see children curled up with books, finding an awareness of themselves as they discover other people’s thoughts. I want them to make the connection that books are people’s stories, that writing is talking on paper, and I want them to write their own stories. I’d like my books to provide that connection for them.”—Patricia Reilly Giff

Patricia Reilly Giff has recieved the Newbery Honor for Pictures of Hollis Woods and Lily’s Crossing, which is also a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book. Nory Ryan’s Song was named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and an ALA Notable Book.



A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

What could be more wonderful than to write stories . . .

I spent my childhood reading in bed at night and early in the morning, and on long summer days under the tree in our yard. What could be more wonderful, I always thought, than to write stories that could make a reader fall in love with a character and laugh or cry over her adventures?

When did I start? Not soon enough! I was married and had three children. A snowy day and a husband who built a writing room from two skinny closets made me begin at last.

I agonized for weeks about what I would write, about that elusive protagonist that would make my readers want to spend hours of their lives following her imaginary life.

In my closet, I began to see Casey Valentine and Tracy Matson; Grace O’Malley came alive for me. And then the Kids of the Polk Street School danced into my head: Emily who reminded me of my daughter Alice, Beast who was very much like a boy I met in New Jersey, and Ms. Rooney—a teacher like myself who had good days and bad days, but who certainly loved her students. And, of course, there was the school amazingly like the one where I spent my days teaching.

I wanted to show readers that everyone has problems, that we’re not alone . . .

During the last several years I’ve been writing more serious books . . . books that remind me of my own childhood, my own feelings. I wrote Lily’ s Crossing because I remembered how terrified I was during the Second World War and All the Way Home because the specter of polio loomed over us each summer. I wanted to show readers that everyone has problems, that we’re not alone.

I wrote Nory Ryan’ s Song because my great-grandparents had lived through the Great Hunger of Ireland and I wanted to know more about it, more than the stories I had heard from family and from my distant cousins in Ireland. I learned as much as I could by going back to Ireland year after year; I wanted to put it all down on paper for my children and my grandchildren.

And then there was Pictures of Hollis Woods. I wrote that for my mother, and for me. Everything in the book has to do with both of us: the names of people my mother cared for—Beatrice, her best friend growing up; Henry, her cousin; Josie Cahill, her favorite aunt—and the house on the East Branch of the Delaware River that we both loved. Hollis was a foster child similar to many of the children I had worked with during my teaching years.

To tell children . . . there’ s always hope

My book Maggie’s Door is the story of Nory Ryan and Sean Mallon as they leave Ireland to take the long and terrible trip to America on one of the “coffin ships” during those famine years. I wrote it to remind readers of how hard immigrants, both past and present, struggle to make new lives for themselves. I wrote it to tell children that no matter how hard our lives are, there’s always a chance for a new start. There’s always hope.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

“I always start each day by writing. That’s like breathing to me,” says Patricia Reilly Giff. In fact, this bestselling author admits: “I wanted to write from the first time I picked up a book and read. I thought it must be the most marvelous thing to make people dance across the pages.”

Reading and writing have always been an important part of Patricia Reilly Giff’s life. As a child, her favorite books included Little Women, The Secret Garden, the Black Stallion books, the Sue Barton books, and the Nancy Drew series. Giff loved reading so much that while growing up, her sister had to grab books out of her hands to get Giff to pay attention to her; later, Giff’s three children often found themselves doing the same thing. As a reading teacher for 20 years, the educational consultant for Dell Yearling and Young Yearling books, an adviser and instructor to aspiring writers, and the author of more than 60 books for children, Patricia Reilly Giff has spent her entire life surrounded by books.

After earning a B.A. degree from Marymount College, Giff took the advice of the school’s dean and decided to become a teacher. She admits, “I loved teaching. It was my world. I only left because I was overwhelmed with three careers—teaching, writing, and my family.”

During the 20 years of her teaching career, she earned an M.A. from St. John’s University, and a Professional Diploma in Reading and a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Hofstra University. Then one morning, Giff told her husband Jim, “I’m going to write a book. I’ve always wanted to write and now I shall.” Jim worked quickly to combine two adjacent closets in their apartment into one cramped workspace and, as Giff jokes, she “began [her] career in a closet.”

Giff explains, “I want the children to bubble up with laughter, or to cry over my books. I want to picture them under a cherry tree or at the library with my book in their hands. But more, I want to see them reading in the classroom. I want to see children in solitude at their desks, reading, absorbing, lost in a book.”

Giff tries to write books “that say ordinary people are special.” She says, “All of my books are based in some way on my personal experiences, or the experiences of members of my family, or the stories kids would tell me in school.” Therefore, when she runs out of ideas for her books, Giff says, “I take a walk and look around. Maybe I spend some time in a classroom and watch the kids for a while. Sometimes I lie on the living room floor and remember my days in second grade or third. If all that doesn’t work, I ask Ali, or Jim, or Bill”—Giff’s children, whose names often appear in her books.

When she’s not writing, Patricia Reilly Giff enjoys reading in the bathtub and going to the movies and eating popcorn. She and her husband reside in Weston, Connecticut. They have three children and five grandchildren. In 1990, Giff combined her two greatest loves—children’s books and her family—and, with her husband and her children, opened The Dinosaur’s Paw, a children’s bookstore named after one of her Kids of the Polk Street School novels. This store is part of Giff’ s quest to bring children and books together. She and her family are trying to “share our love of children’s books and writing and to help others explore the whole world of children’s books.”

Throughout the year, Giff visits schools and libraries around the country and speaks to her readers about her books, and about writing. When discussing her work, Giff claims, “I have no special talent, you know. I never took a writing course before I began to write.” She believes that “anyone who has problems, or worries, anyone who laughs and cries, anyone who feels can write. It’s only talking on paper . . . talking about the things that matter to us.”

Giff’s Newbery Honor–winning novel, Lily’s Crossing, is a vivid portrait of the home front during World War II. Fans of Giff’s Kids of the Polk Street School series who are ready to tackle a more challenging book will love this funny, sad, but reassuring story.

Her book, All the Way Home, tells the touching story of Brick and Mariel, two 11-year-old friends who know firsthand about adversity, and together embark on a journey that brings them personal peace.




PRAISE

LILY’S CROSSING
“Details . . . are woven with great effect into a realistic story of ordinary people who must cope with events beyond their comprehension.”—Starred, The Horn Book Magazine

“Set during World War II, this tenderly written story tells of the war’s impact on two children, one an American and one a Hungarian refugee. Giff’s well-drawn, believable characters and vivid prose style make this an excellent choice.”—School Library Journal

NORY RYAN’S SONG
“Newbery Honor winner Giff weaves wisps of history into this wrenching tale of an Irish family sundered by the Great Potato Famine. . . . Riveting.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

“Giff brings the landscape and the cultural particulars of the era vividly to life and creates in Nory a heroine to cheer for. A beautiful, heart-warming novel that makes a devastating event understandable.” —Starred, Booklist

THE VALENTINE STAR
The Kids of the Polk Street School #6

“Humor and trials are portrayed through realistic characters and situations and natural dialogue.”—School Library Journal

SAY “CHEESE”
The Kids of the Polk Street School #10

“An affectionate picture of lower elementary students making their way through the ups and downs of classroom life.”—Booklist

LOOK OUT, WASHINGTON, D.C.!
A Polk Street Special #6

“An easy-to-read chapter book for fans of the series, as well as for those planning a visit.”—School Library Journal

SHARK IN SCHOOL
“A solid book that accurately depicts many of the heartaches of the first days at a new school.”—Kirkus Reviews
Praise | Awards

Praise

Reviewed in Bookselling Kids' Pick of the Lists Part Two for October 2000.


From the Hardcover edition.

Awards

WINNER 2001 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER 2001 ALA Notable Children's Book
WINNER 2002 Arkansas Charlie May Simon Master List
NOMINEE 2003 Illinois Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Award
WINNER 2001 Maine Student Book Master List
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide



ABOUT THIS BOOK

Newbery Honor–winning author Patricia Reilly Giff tells the unforgettable story of 12-year-old Nory Ryan, who finds courage and strength through love, friendship, and song to help her family survive the potato famine in 1845 Ireland.

Nory Ryan’s family has lived on Maidin Bay for generations. But this year a terrible blight attacks the potatoes, and her family is split apart by the great hunger that has overtaken Ireland. Nory’s mother has died years before in childbirth; her older sister Maggie has gone to America. And Da is away on a fishing boat. There are no coins for food, and Lord Cunningham, the landlord, is threatening to take their home.
It is with bold determination that Nory Ryan finds a way to save her family, and to join the thousands of Irish men, women, and children who are making their way to America.

ABOUT THIS AUTHOR

Patricia Reilly Giff is the author of many beloved books for children, including the Kids of the Polk Street School books and the Polka Dot Private Eye books. Her novels for middle-grade readers include The Gift of the Pirate Queen; Lily’s Crossing, a Newbery Honor Book and a Boston Globe—Horn Book Honor Book; Nory Ryan’s Song, an ALA Notable Book and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults; All the Way Home; and Pictures of Hollis Woods. Patricia Reilly Giff lives in Weston, Connecticut.

TEACHING IDEAS

PRE-READING ACTIVITY

Have the class research the countries of the world that suffer from poverty and starvation today, for example, Bosnia. What is the primary cause of such hunger? Is it an economic, political, or social issue? Draw some comparisons between what these nations suffer and what the Irish suffered during the potato famine of the 1800s. What organizations provide aid to starving nations today?


THEMATIC CONNECTIONS

Courage–Ask the class to define courage. How does it take courage for Maggie to leave her family and go to America? Have students share what they think Nory’s most courageous moment is. Describe Anna Donnelly’s courage. What does Nory learn from Anna about courage? How is courage related to hope? Maggie says to Nory, “We will be together again. Hold on to that.” (p. 29) Cite evidence that Nory maintains hope that her family will be reunited.

Sacrifice–The Irish made great sacrifices during the potato famine. Engage the class in a discussion about their sacrifices. Why is Anna willing to give her coin to Nory? What does Anna mean when she says to Nory, “I will give you the coin, but you will pay for it another way”? (p. 8) Does Nory ever pay for the coin? Why is Nory willing to sacrifice her future by staying with Anna? What sacrifices does Anna make by insisting that Nory go to America?

Family–Maggie says to Nory, “You are the heart of the family with your songs.” (p. 26) Then she describes Celia as “loyal and true.” (p. 26) Discuss with the class whether Maggie is correct in her assessment of her sisters. How does Nory remain the “heart of the family”? Describe Nory’s relationship with her younger brother, Patch. Why is the picture that Maggie sends home so important?

Intergenerational Relationships–Discuss Nory’s relationship with Granda. How does Granda view his role in the family? At first, Nory is afraid of Anna Donnelly. What changes their relationship? Ask students to discuss whether Nory views Anna as a member of the family. Nory vows never to leave Anna and tells her, “We belong here together.” (p. 145) Why does Anna insist that Nory’s place is in America?


CONNECTING TO THE CURRICULUM

Language Arts–Nory can be considered bold, dauntless, and brave, the three characteristics that best describe some of the female characters in Irish mythology. Send students to the library to locate an Irish myth. Then have them write a short paper that compares Nory to the main character of the myth.

Social Studies–Nory says, “The English had an army and souls of vinegar, and they had killed and killed, and we were still not free.” (p. 28) How did the English make the potato famine more devastating to families like Nory’s? Have students make a time line that traces the relationship between the English and the Irish from 1800 to the present. At what point did the Irish begin to recover from the great famine?

Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated every March 17. Ask students to find out how the potato famine in Ireland changed the way that the Irish in America celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. Have students use reference books or the Internet to find out what cities in the United States have large Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations. What is unique and significant about these celebrations? How do these celebrations compare to those in Ireland?

Science–When the blight destroys the potatoes, Nory is worried that there will be no eyes to plant the next year. Have students find out the planting season for potatoes. What climate do they require? When are they harvested? Ask students to make a chart that details the growth cycle of a potato.

Anna Donnelly teaches Nory about her cures. She uses “ivy for burns, comfrey for fever, foxglove for heart pain, laurel leaves for ringworm, houseleek for the eyes, the web of a spider for bleeding.” (p. 145) Have students find other plants used for medicinal purposes. Then have them create an illustrated booklet that describes the plants and their uses. Include an appropriate title for the booklet and a dedication page to Anna.

Health–Ask students to use books or the Internet to locate pictures of people who suffer from starvation. Describe the physical characteristics of these people. What diseases are associated with hunger? Nory Ryan keeps her family alive by eating kelp, eggs from wild birds, and limpets and mussels from the sea. What nutrients are found in these foods?

Music–Engage the class in a discussion about the importance of music in Nory’s life. She often sings to Patch to give him courage. Have students find examples of Irish folk songs, lullabies, or ballads that could be considered songs of courage. Then ask them to select a song that Nory might sing to Anna on the day that she leaves for America.

Art–Maggie draws a picture that communicates her new life and her hopes and dreams for her family. Nory finds great comfort and joy in the picture. Have students create a picture that Nory might draw for Anna that tells about her new life
in America and at the same time expresses her love for Anna.

VOCABULARY

Patricia Reilly Giff provides a glossary of Irish words with pronunciations at the beginning of the novel. Ask students to search for other unfamiliar words that specifically refer to the Irish and the historical setting of the book. Such words may include glen (p. 3), currachs (p. 27), and praties (p. 64).

AWARDS

An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Notable Children’s Book

REVIEWS

"Newbery Honor winner Giff weaves wisps of history into this wrenching tale of an Irish family sundered by the Great Potato Famine. . . . Riveting."--Starred, Kirkus Reviews

*"Giff brings the landscape and the cultural particulars of the era vividly to life and creates in Nory a heroine to cheer for. A beautiful, heart-warming novel that makes a devastating event understandable."--Starred, Booklist

*"Today's readers will appreciate this compelling story with a wonderful female protagonist who is spirited and resourceful, and has a song in her heart."--Starred, School Library Journal

BEYOND THE BOOK

INTERNET RESOURCES

The Great Irish Famine
This site provides a very thorough curriculum guide for teachers approved by the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education. It is for inclusion in the Holocaust and Genocide Curriculum at the secondary level.
www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish_famine.html

The Boston Irish Famine Memorial
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Irish Famine, Boston’s Irish community unveiled a memorial park on June 28, 1998.
www.boston.com/partners/famine_memorial

Potato Blight
This site explains blight and what happened to the Irish potato crop in 1845-1846.
www.cavannet.ie/nature/spuds.htm

OTHER TITLES OF INTEREST

Lily's Crossing
Patricia Reilly Giff
Historical Fiction • Family
Intergenerational Relationships
Grades 4-7 / 0-440-41453-9

Gib and the Gray Ghost
Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Courage • Historical Fiction
Grades 4-7 / 0-385-32609-2

Belle Prater’s Boy
Ruth White
Abandonment • Friendship
Family Relationships
Grades 5-7 / 0-440-41372-9

The Friends
Kazumi Yumoto
Friendship
Grades 5-7 / 0-440-41446-6

COPYRIGHT

Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, the South Carolina Governor’s School for Arts and Humanities, Greenville, South Carolina.


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