Newsletter, Volume 12, Number 1


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In This Issue You'll Find:

  • News
  • Nory Ryan's Song and Maggie's Door by Patricia Reilly Giff

My first order of business is the painful job of letting those of you who haven't already heard know that Carol Otis Hurst, my mom, died on January 22nd. You can read her death notice at:

The article in this newsletter about Nory Ryan's Song was written by Mom just before her death.

It's been a great comfort to my sister and I that just a couple of days before her death my Mom received glowing reviews of her two latest books from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.

Torchlight (Hurst, Carol Otis. Walter Lorraine/Houghton Mifflin. 2006. ISBN 978-0-618-27601-1) is a novel set in 1850's Westfield, Massachusetts. Against the mounting tensions between the Irish and the Yankees, Maggie and Charlotte's friendship doesn't stand a chance. For more information see:

Terrible Storm (Hurst, Carol Otis. Greenwillow. 2007. ISBN 978-0-06-009002-9) is a picture book rendition of a story two of my great-grandfathers used to tell of being trapped during the New England blizzard of 1888. The sociable one was stranded alone in a barn and the shy one in a crowded inn. For more information see:

I hope you enjoy this newsletter about one of our favorite books and that you get a chance to check out the two latest books from Mom.

It was Mom's wish that the website and this newsletter continue and that is my plan.

-- Rebecca Otis


Patricia Reilly Giff is a versatile and prolific author of children's books. She has given us some wonderful early reader series, some good picture books and several great novels for middle grade readers. We're going to look at one of those middle grade readers and its sequel in this newsletter.

Nory Ryan's Song (Yearling, 2002 ISBN 0440418291. Order Info.) takes place during the "Great Hunger" in Ireland between 1845 and 1852. The potato blight that struck that crop destroyed much more than potatoes. Scavenging for any source of nourishment the people stripped the shore of seaweed, the oceans of any edible organism and even chewed on the grass. English landlords, wanting the land, used every excuse to throw families out of their homes.

We see it all through the eyes of twelve-year-old Nory Ryan who tries to help her family and her community survive. Her father left the family to find work on a fishing boat, but he's been gone too long and is feared dead. Some of Nory's family has already left for America, where, it is said, no one is hungry and jobs are plentiful.

This short, accessible novel for kids from fourth grade up is a good springboard for many worthwhile activities.

Make a list of the goals Nory and her family set for themselves. How do those goals change as the story continues?

In spite of the heartbreak in this story, many have called it a story of hope. Is that what you'd call it? Can you see why others do?

The story is told in the first person. Select a scene and change it to third or even second person. Read the page aloud with those changes. Talk about the result. Do you think Patricia Reilly Giff chose the right voice?

Many of the people in this story cannot read. How does that restrict their lives? Interview teachers in your school to find out when and if they read anything during an average day. Develop interview questions to determine what effect illiteracy would have on their lives.

Several superstitions are mentioned in the story: the dropping of coins in the well, sunshine on the wedding day, and the fear of the sidhe. Can you understand why these people believe in such things? Do you have any superstitions?

On a map of Ireland, locate some of the places mentioned in the book.

Find out more about the potato famine. What caused it? How widespread was it? Has it ever happened again?

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The sequel to Nory Ryan's Song is Maggie's Door (Wendy Lamb Books, 2003 ISBN 0385326580. Order Info). Before reading it, make a list of questions you have about what might happen to Nory and her family in the sequel. Combine your list with others in the class and then read Maggie's Door. Did you find answers to any of your questions? Do you think Patricia Reilly Giff made good choices?

How does Nory's arrival in America differ from that of immigrants today? What do immigrants have to do to become citizens? What do you think they should have to do?

Where do most of the immigrants in your town or city come from? Conduct interviews of some immigrant families and compare their experiences with other interviews and with the experiences of immigrants like Nory from long ago.

Read a work of fiction that deals with immigrants to this country since you were born and compare to the time of the potato famine.

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Related Books:

Bateman, Teresa. The Ring of Truth: An Original Irish Tale

Hurst, Carol. Torchlight

Connor, Leslie. Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel

MacGill-Callahan, Sheila. To Capture the Wind

Bunting, Eve. Market Day

Related Areas on Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site:

World History:

In Times Past, eBook by Carol Hurst and Rebecca Otis:
Teaching History through Literature:

Local History and Family Stories:

Related Areas Elsewhere on the Web

Random House Teachers' Guide for Nory Ryan's Song:

Information from Random House on Patricia Reilly Giff:

That's it for now.

Carol and Rebecca