Happy Sunday, friends! I hope you all had a wonderful June, and here’s to a happy July! I am excited to share that starting today, I am bringing back my series “Book Review & Beyond”. Every Sunday now, I will be sharing a review of a storybook that is steeped in history – especially family history. I tell you, if I learned nothing else about teaching writing in college, it’s that kids need “mentor texts” in order to write! Mentor texts are books that kids can draw ideas and inspiration from to write their own stories. So, now every Sunday I’ll provide you with an example of a book that just might spur your youngin’ to write their own storybook – and maybe they’ll soon have their own “storybook ancestor” to share!
Fiona’s Lace by Patricia Polacco
Today’s featured book, Fiona’s Lace, is written and illustrated by one of my all-time favorite children’s authors, Patricia Polacco. She is famous for sharing stories steeped in her own family history in her children’s books. Many of her books are about her mother’s side of the family, who were from Russia and Ukraine. However, today’s book is a newer book of hers, published in 2014, and it tells a story of her great-great grandmother on her father’s side – the Irish side of her family.
Fiona and her sister, Ailish, were born near Limerick, Ireland. Their family had a happy, simple life in their small village of Glen Kerry. Both girls loved to hear their father Mick tell stories – any kind of story, but their very favorite was how their parents met and started courting, and eventually married.
Both of their parents worked at the textile mill – their mother, Annie, in the lace parlor. Annie caught the eye of Mick, but he couldn’t find a way to speak to her. Little did he know – she’d been eyeing him, too. And one day, she left a trail of lace for him to follow, right to her home. And the rest was history.
But now, arthritis has taken Annie’s ability to make fine lace away. Fiona, however, has inherited her mother’s talent, and can make a finer lace than anyone around.
The book goes on to tell of the hardship that befalls their little town, causing many of its folks to leave Ireland for America, including Fiona’s family. The passage across the Atlantic and overland is difficult, but they finally arrive in their destination in Chicago, Illinois.
Everything in America is new and strange to the Irish immigrants. Both of Fiona’s parents are forced to take on second jobs to make an income, as they didn’t realize that the contract they signed for their family’s passage meant that they were now indentured servants, and would see none of their pay until their debt was paid in full.
Things are looking bleak for the little family, but it’s Fiona, and her talent in making the finest Irish lace, that ends up saving the family – in more ways than one.
Patricia Polacco notes at the end of the book that she still has a piece of her great-great grandmother Fiona’s lace in a frame in her house. Whenever she passes it, it reminds her of her beautiful heritage, and it reminds her to “thank the Laird” as Fiona’s mother Annie passed down to her two daughters, and ultimately to all of her descendants.
A Beautiful Story from Family History
I have always loved Patricia Polacco’s way of sharing her family history through children’s storybooks. She was one of my earliest inspirations for encouraging kids to write storybooks of their own ancestors and family members. Fiona’s Lace is yet another example of her sharing a beloved family story through this medium. It’s even more wonderful that she illustrates each of her books herself.
I watched a video of Patricia telling about her grandmother on her mother’s side sharing stories with her when she was young. This grandmother became of one Patricia’s biggest inspirations to share family stories with children everywhere. But one thing struck me in her interview, and it was these words about sharing family stories: “It gave us a sense that we were loved long before we were ever born.”
We were loved long before we were ever born. Isn’t that a beautiful thought? I think of how much those who came before us sacrificed for their children, and their children’s children, and so on. So many, like Fiona’s family, left their homelands behind to seek a better future for their family. They loved us long before we were born. The same is true for any immigrant or refugee family today – they seek more for their children, and those who come after them. They love their children, and they love their children’s children, long before they are born.
An Activity for Fiona’s Lace
Fine Irish lace was in high demand in Fiona’s day. Here’s how your kids can create a little Irish lace fan with things you probably have in your house right now:
What you’ll need:
- White paper plate
- Hole punch
Fold the paper plate in half and staple it together on the round side on the edges. Then, punch holes in the round side, and thread the ribbon through the holes, tying it in a bow when you reach the end. Decorate the paper plate.
And hey – while you’re working on decorating your fan, or threading the ribbon, why not take the time to share family history stories with your kids? They can share stories they remember, too. Then you’ll really be honoring the memory of Fiona – not only by recreating her lace, but by telling stories, her true favorite pastime.
Join Us in Sharing Family History with Kids!
Do you have young bookworms in your life with whom you’d love to share this book, and others? Do you also have young folks in your life who would love the detective work of becoming a family historian? Subscribe to Storybook Ancestor to gain access to our free resource library! There are plenty of downloadable and printable activities to get kids started in family history – and there’s a fun new book report activity for kids who love to read. Plus, you’ll be part of a growing community of people dedicated to sharing family history with kids, and empowering them to discover their family history on their own, too! Join us in our Facebook group, too. We’d love to have you along for the ride.
And as always, happy storytelling!