March 2004

An old tradition gets a new twist

By Susan Wojciechowski
Review by
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Susan Wojciechowski has devised a newfangled fairy tale from an ancient holiday. The premise of A Fine St. Patrick's Day is neatly summed up on the opening page: "For as far back as anyone could remember, the towns of Tralee and Tralah had been rivals. Every year on St. Patrick's Day, they held a contest to see which town could decorate best for the holiday. And though the people of Tralee tried their hardest, they never won."

So what will happen this year? The answer comes from Fiona Riley of Tralee, a "wee lass of six" who suggests that the town paint everything bright green. The townsfolk agree, and little Fiona picks out a shade called Limerick Lime. Suddenly, however, preparations are interrupted by a strange little man with a long red beard who gallops into town on a big white horse. He goes from door to door, first in Tralah, begging for help, because his cows are stuck in the mud. At every house in Tralah, he is turned away. Folks there are much too busy preparing for the contest, trying to beat their rival. Over in Tralee, of course, it's a different story. Everyone readily agrees to help the stranger rescue his cows. I won't say what happens next, but the conclusion is fitting, with the contest resolved in an unexpected, pleasing way.

Tom Curry's illustrations, painted in acrylics, are marvelous, with textures so rich they seem like collages. The many hues of green in the book provide the perfect backdrop for the comings and goings of the citizens of Tralee. The world Curry has created feels like that of a traditional fairy tale, but it has a decidedly funky atmosphere.

A Fine St. Patrick's Day provides a great starting point for discussions with young readers about the history of St. Patrick's Day, the nature of fairy tales and the good and bad aspects of competition. No doubt the many shamrocks inside the book will bring readers a fine helping of good luck!

Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts.

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A Fine St. Patrick’s Day

A Fine St. Patrick’s Day

By Susan Wojciechowski
Random House
ISBN 9780375823862

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