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.
Patricia Reilly Giff has written more than 50 books for young readers, including the Kids of the Polk Street School series.
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
"I always start each day by writing. That's like breathing to me," says Patricia Reilly Giff. In fact, this best-selling author admits she knew she "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 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 they were 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 twenty years, the educational consultant for Dell Yearling and Young Yearling books, an advisor and instructor to aspiring writers, and the author of more than 60 books for children, 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 love teaching. It was my world. I only left because I was overwhelmed with three careers--teaching, writing, and my family."
During the twenty 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 decided to write the Kids of the Polk Street School books because she "wanted to give relatively new readers 'fat' books, chapter books. At the same time I wanted to give my remedial readers books they could read, laugh over, and, I hope, not be ashamed of. I wanted to give them joy."
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, Giff enjoys reading in the bathtub and going to the movies and eating popcorn. She and her husband of 35 years reside in Weston, Connecticut. They have two cats, three children, and four 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 novel, Lily's Crossing, is a vivid portrait of the home front during World War II. It was named a 1998 Newbery Honor Book by the American Library Association (ALA). The John Newbery Medal, one of the most prestigious awards in children's literature, honors outstanding writing of works published in the U.S. during the previous year.
In addition to the Newbery Honor citation, Lily's Crossing was named an ALA Notable Book for Children and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book. Fans of Giff's The Kids of the Polk Street School series who are ready to tackle a more challenging book will love this funny, sad, yet reassuring story.
Giff's new novel, Nory Ryan's Song, is the tale of a remarkable girl and her family as they face the Irish Famine.
In the Classroom
Nory Ryan’s Song is a story of courage and sacrifice, friendship, and family. It deals with hopes and fears, love and caring. Nory’s brave efforts to save her family will introduce students to an unfamiliar period in history and help them connect to the plight of the Irish immigrants in the 19th century.
This novel is an ideal choice for a read-aloud or a class novel study. In addition to providing thematic discussion questions, this guide offers activities for using the novel in language arts, social studies, science, health, music, and art.
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?
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,
Vocabulary/Use of Language
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).
The John Newbery Medal
An ALA Notable Book for Children
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book
"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