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  • Written by Patricia Reilly Giff
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  • Written by Patricia Reilly Giff
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Written by Patricia Reilly GiffAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Patricia Reilly Giff


List Price: $6.99


On Sale: January 16, 2009
Pages: 176 | ISBN: 978-0-307-54905-1
Published by : Yearling RH Childrens Books

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Read by Coleen Marlo
On Sale: September 12, 2006
ISBN: 978-0-7393-3647-2
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Brooklyn, 1875: Bird Mallon lives on Water Street where you can see the huge towers of the bridge to Manhattan being built. Bird wants nothing more in life than to be brave enough to be a healer, like her mother, Nory, to help her sister Annie find love, and to convince her brother, Hughie, to stop fighting for money with his street gang. And of course, she wishes that a girl would move into the empty apartment upstairs so that she can have a new friend close by.

But Thomas Neary and his Pop move in upstairs. Thomas who writes about his life in his journal--his father who spends each night at the Tavern down the street, the mother he wishes he had, and the Mallon family downstairs that he desperately wants to be a part of. Thomas, who has a secret that only Bird suspects, and who turns out to be the best friend Bird could ever have.

From the Hardcover edition.


chapter one


Bird clattered down the stairs in back of Mama, past Mrs. Daley’s on the first floor, and Sullivan the baker at the window in front. Outside she and Mama held hands, swinging them back and forth as they hurried along Water Street.

“Hot.” Bird squinted up at the sun that beat down, huge and orange.

“Even this early,” Mama agreed.

For a quick moment, they stopped to look at the tower standing by itself at the edge of the East River. One day it would be part of a great bridge.

What would it be like to stand on top, arms out, seeing the world the way a bird would? she wondered.

Bird, her nickname.

She pulled her heavy hair off her neck. “Mrs. Daley says they’ll never be able to finish that bridge. She says it will collapse under its own weight and tumble right into the river.”

They said it together, laughing: “Mrs. Daley says more than her prayers.”

“Still,” Bird said, “half of Brooklyn says the same thing.”

“Not I,” Mama said, “and not your da. We know anything is possible, otherwise we’d still be in the Old Country scrabbling for a bit of food.”

Bird glanced at Mama, the freckles on her nose, her hair with a few strands of gray coming out of her bun ten minutes after she’d looped it up: Mama’s strong face, which Da always said was just like Bird’s. She couldn’t see that. When she looked in the mirror, she saw the freckles, the gray eyes, and the straight nose, but altogether it didn’t add up to Mama’s face.

She was glad to reach the house on the corner, the number 112 painted over the door, and the vestibule out of the sun.

They climbed the stairs, the light dim as they stopped to catch their breath on each landing. “Let me.” Bird took the blue cloth medicine bag that hung over Mama’s shoulder. “It seems your patients are always on the top floor.”

“Ah, isn’t it so,” Mama said, holding her side. “And the babies always coming in the dead cold of winter, or on steamy days like this.”

Bird could feel the tick of excitement. Mama’s words to her were deep inside her head: “Only days until your thirteenth birthday. You’re old enough to come with me for a birthing.” Bird’s feet tapped it out on the steps: a baby, a baby.

She’d been helping Mama for a long time, chopping her healing herbs and drying them, helping to wash old Mrs. Cunningham, bringing tonic to Mr. Harris. But this! A baby coming! She couldn’t have been more excited.

On the fifth floor, the door was half-open. Two children played under a window; an old man rocked in the one chair, a toddler on his lap pulling at his beard. “The daughter’s inside,” he said.

In the bedroom, the daughter lay in a nest of blankets, her head turned away, her hair in long dark strands over the covers. She made a deep sound in her throat, then turned toward them, and Bird could see how glad she was that Mama was there.

Who wouldn’t be glad to see Mama, who knew all about healing, about birthing? Mama, who always made things turn out right.

Mama patted the woman’s arm. “I know, Mrs. Taylor.” She nodded at Bird. “Now here’s what you’ll do. You’ll sit on the other side of the bed there. Hold her hand, and cool her forehead with a damp cloth.”

Easy enough, Bird thought.

“And I’ll have the work of it,” the woman said before another pain caught her, blanching the color from her cheeks.

“You’ve done it all before.” Mama leaned over to open her bag. “After three girls, there’s nothing to the fourth, is there now?”

Mama made a tent of the blankets so she could help with the birth, and Bird went into the other room to fill a pan with water and wring out a rag. She stepped over the children as she went, bending down to touch the tops of their heads.

Back in the bedroom she ran the rag over the woman’s neck and face. She held her hand during the pains for as long as she could stand it, then pulled her own hand away in between each one. Bird’s hands were larger than Mama’s already, but still she felt as if her fingers were being crushed in the woman’s grip.

At first the woman talked a little, telling them that her husband wanted a boy, that he wouldn’t forgive her if it was another girl, but after a while it was only her breathing Bird heard in that stifling room, and sometimes that sound in her throat, but Mama’s voice was sure and soft, telling her it wouldn’t be long.

Bird sat there thinking about the miracle of it, to be like Mama, to be able to do this. She wanted nothing more than that, to go up and down the streets of Brooklyn, with all that Mama knew in her head, the herbs to cure in a bag looped over her arm, the babies to birth. Bird watched Mama wipe her own forehead with her sleeve, then put her hands on the woman, pressing down and murmuring, “Take another breath, and as you let it out, push with me, push.”

It went on and on, and the room was filled with that July heat, with air that never moved. Such a long day, and the sounds the woman made were much louder now, so loud that the two children came to the door, staring in, until Mama realized they were there. She reached with her foot to push the door and gently closed them out.

And then the smell of blood was in the room, and the baby slid into Mama’s hands, wet and glistening. “A girl.” She handed her to Bird.

Too bad about the foolish husband, Bird thought, looking down at the baby, who was pale, and tiny, and crying weakly. “Beautiful,” she breathed, then washed her with water from the pan and wrapped her in the receiving blanket Mama took from her bag.

Bird could feel the wetness in her eyes from the won- der of it, and the woman sighed and asked, “What’s your name?”

“Bridget Mallon.” The name sounded strange; no one called her anything but Bird.

“Bridget,” the woman said. “Then that will be her middle name. Mary Bridget.”

From the Hardcover edition.
Patricia Reilly Giff

About Patricia Reilly Giff

Patricia Reilly Giff - Water Street
“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.


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.


“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.


“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

“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 Kids of the Polk Street School #6

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

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

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

“A solid book that accurately depicts many of the heartaches of the first days at a new school.”—Kirkus Reviews


“Historical fiction at its best.”–Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“A poignant immigration story of friendship, work, and the meaning of home.”–Booklist, Starred

“Giff makes Bird’s Brooklyn so real you could touch it.”–The Horn Book

“Giff masterfully integrates the historical material and presents a vivid picture of the immigrant struggle in the 1870s.”–School Library Journal
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide


Courage • Fear • Hope
Belonging • Sacrifice
Family • Friendship
Grades 4—7

In Nory Ryan’s Song, a terrible blight attacks the potato crops in Ireland where the Ryan family has lived for generations. Now Nory’s family is split apart by the great hunger that has overtaken their native land, and it is with bold determination that Nory 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.

Maggie’s Door
offers even greater challenges to Nory. She is left with the responsibility of caring for Patch, her younger brother, and Granda on an arduous journey to America. Nory and her friend, Sean, unknowingly board the same ship to New York– Nory as a passenger in the steerage with Patch and Granda, Sean as a cook’s helper in the galley– and they do not meet up until late in the journey.

Set in 1875 in Brooklyn, Nory and Sean Mallon have married and set up housekeeping in a small apartment in Water Street. Thirteen-year-old Bird, the youngest of the three Mallon children, is in school, but wants more than anything to be brave enough to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a healer. Her brother, Hughie, has disappointed the family by joining a street gang. When Thomas Neary moves in upstairs, Bird sees a different kind of hardship and learns a lot about family, friendship, and the true meaning of courage.


Patricia Reilly Giff is the author of many beloved books for children, including the Kids of the Polk Street School books, the Friends and Amigos books, and the Polka Dot Private Eye books. Her novels for older readers include A House of Tailors, Nory Ryan's Song, and the Newbery Honor Books Lily’s Crossing and Pictures of Hollis Woods. Her most recent book is Eleven, a rich story about identity, family bonds, and a friendship between a girl who can’t stop reading and a boy who can’t begin. She lives in Trumbull, Connecticut.

For more information on the author, visit www.patriciareillygiff.com


Ask students to research the treatment of the Irish in 19thcentury America. They can begin by logging on to a Web site about Irish immigrants in America at that time: www.kinsella.org/history/histira.htm. Have them consider and discuss the following questions: Why did Americans resent the Irish? How did the Irish respond to Americans who treated them poorly? How did the Irish position in America change by the turn of the century?


Courage–Ask the class to define courage. How does it take courage for Maggie to leave her family and go to America in Nory Ryan’s Song? What does Nory learn from Anna Donnelly about courage? There are times in Maggie’s Door that Nory almost loses her courage. How does the image of Anna’s face give Nory the courage to continue her journey? At what point in the novel does Nory display the greatest strength and courage? Discuss how Nory and Sean give each other courage.

In Water Street, Nory and Sean are married with three children of their own. Which of Nory and Sean’s children display the most courage? What does Bird learn from her mother about courage? Discuss how Thomas offers Bird a different kind of courage.

Fear–Ask the class to discuss how the potato famine created an epidemic of fear throughout Ireland. How does Nory deal with fear in Maggie’s Door? In Water Street, Nory and Sean have settled in Brooklyn. What type of fear do they face in their new life? Contrast how Bird, Hughie, and Thomas deal with fear. Discuss how the fears of immigrants today might be similar to the fears experienced by the Irish immigrants in the 1800s.

–Engage the class in a discussion about the relationship between hope, fear, and survival. Explain why life seems hopeless to Nory and Patch in Nory Ryan’s Song. How does Mrs. Mallon give up hope in Maggie’s Door? How are Anna’s hopes expressed through Nory? Discuss how Bird is a symbol of hope for her family in Water Street. How does Thomas find hope through his writing?

Belonging–There are many types of belonging expressed in the three novels–belonging to a family, to friends, to a native country, and to an adopted country. Ask students to discuss passages in each novel that best represent these types of belonging. Describe the sense of belonging that Thomas feels in Water Street when he is with the Mallon family.

–The Irish made great sacrifices during the potato famine. Engage the class in a discussion about their sacrifices. In Nory Ryan’s Song, Anna is 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) Why is Nory willing to sacrifice her future by staying with Anna? What sacrifices does Anna make by insisting that Nory go to America?
What sacrifices does Nory make in Water Street? How do Bird and Thomas make sacrifices for one another?

–In Nory Ryan’s Song, 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. At what point in Maggie’s Door is it evident that Nory and Sean will become a family? How does Nory remain the heart of her family in Water Street? Thomas feels abandoned because he doesn’t have a mother, and his father spends so much time in local bars. How does the Mallon family give Thomas the courage to ask his father for the truth regarding his mother? Discuss how Thomas gains a sense of family through his writing.

Friendship–In Maggie’s Door, there is a friendship between Nory and Sean. At what point does the friendship develop into love? How might Bird and Thomas define friendship in Water Street? Describe the moment that Bird accepts Thomas as her friend. Ask students to make a prediction about a future relationship between Bird and Thomas.


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.

In Water Street, Sean Mallon gives Bird a copy of Aesop’s Fables. She says that the stories are about animals, but are really about people. Ask students to use books in the library or sites on the Internet to locate an Aesop’s Fable that best describes the relationship between Bird and Thomas. Share the fable in class.

Science/Health–In Nory Ryan’s Song, Anna Donnelly teaches Nory about her cures, and in Water Street, Nory relays the information to Bird. 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 that Nory might give to Bird. Include an appropriate title and a dedication page to Anna.

In Water Street, Bird is called to help a family that has scarlet fever. Find out the causes, symptoms, and treatment of scarlet fever. Why was it such a devastating disease in the 1800s? Make a poster that might appear in the windows along Water Street that warns people about scarlet fever.

Social Studies–In 1882 Ellis Island became the processing center for all immigrants seeking entrance into the United States. Send students on a virtual field trip to the Ellis Island Museum (www.ellisisland.com). Ask them to find out why Ellis Island became known as the “Isle of Tears.” Instruct students to write a short paper entitled “Ellis Island: An American Historic Treasure.”

In Water Street, Sean Mallon, Bird’s father, is helping to build the Brooklyn Bridge. Research the history of the bridge, the actual construction, and how the bridge changed the lives of people in Brooklyn. Write an article that might have appeared in the Standard Union or the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on the day the construction began.

–In Nory’s Ryan’s Song, 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.

Tell students that the leaves on the four-leaf clover represent hope, faith, love, and luck. Ask each student to make a large four-leaf clover and draw a scene from Nory Ryan’s Song, Maggie’s Door, and Water Street that best symbolizes each leaf. How is the picture different for the three novels?

Music–Engage the class in a discussion about the importance of music in Nory’s life. In Nory Ryan’s Song, 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. In Water Street, Thomas Neary is like a son to Nory Mallon. What song might she give to Thomas on the day that he finds out the truth about his mother?

Drama–Annie Moore, a 15-year-old Irish girl, came to America several years after Nory Ryan does in Maggie’s Door, and was the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island. Ask student to use books in the library or sites on the Internet to find out more about Annie Moore (www.irishaci.org/anniemoore.html). Then have them stage a dialogue between Nory and Annie.

In Water Street, Thomas Neary is valedictorian of the class of 1876 and receives a scholarship to the School of the Arts. Write and deliver the speech that Thomas might give at graduation.


In Nory Ryan’s Song, 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).

Encourage students to jot down unfamiliar vocabulary in Maggie’s Door and Water Street, and ask them to try to define the words using clues from the context of the story. In Maggie’s Door such words may include boreen (p. 9), dulse (p. 13), larder (p. 27), ballast (p. 44), and keening (p. 122). In Water Street such words may include vestibule (p. 6), livery (p. 12), disposition (p. 30), caisson (p. 38), missal (p. 40), impale (p. 73), froth (p. 120) and serene (p. 159).


The Great Irish Famine
This site provides a curriculum guide for teaching about the potato blight.

Irish Immigrants in America
This site offers the point of view of Americans to the influx of Irish immigrants in the 19th century.

Brooklyn Expedition
This site discusses the history and interesting facts about the Brooklyn Bridge.

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