Book: Nory Ryan's Song

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Book:

Nory Ryan's Song

Author: Patricia Reilly Giff
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Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

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.

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Life is hard for poor Irish potato farmers, but 12-year-old Nory Ryan and her family have always scraped by…until one morning, Nory wakes to the foul, rotting smell of diseased potatoes dying in the fields. And just like that, all their hopes for the harvest—for this year and next—are dashed. Hunger sets in quickly. The beaches are stripped of edible seaweed, the shore is emptied of fish, desperate souls even chew on grass for the nourishment. As her community falls apart, Nory scrambles to find food for her family. Meanwhile, the specter of America lurks, where, the word is, no one is ever hungry, and horses carry milk in huge cans down cobblestone streets.

As Patricia Reilly Giff writes in her note to the reader, the Great Hunger of 1845 to 1852 was a tragic time for the Irish. Enough food to feed double the population was sent out across the sea, while an indifferent government ignored the starving masses. More than one million of the eight million people in Ireland died. Nory Ryan’s Song, a fictionalized account based on this terrible era in history, describes the heroic struggles of one girl who refuses to give in to hunger, exhaustion, and hopeless circumstances. Young readers may have heard of the Irish Potato Famine, but they won’t truly understand it until they meet Nory. Giff is the author of many beloved books for children, including the Newbery Honor Book Lily’s Crossing and the Polk Street School series. (Ages 9 to 12) —Emilie Coulter

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