Chickens roost in the thatched roofs of Derry Lane, Pobble O’Keefe. We can almost hear the lilting Irish accent in the narrator voicing the background setting to this story as the main character, Darcy, a young Irish girl with a talent for observation, is introduced. The O’Hara family are happy as they gather around the hearth for Grandad’s stories “in the glow of the peat fire.” His stories would feature “brave heroes…moonlit glens (and)..fairy queens.” However, this happiness is short lived when the potatoes turn black and their leaves curl up.
Darcy’s family are forced off the land and an agent warns them to accept the government ticket to leave Ireland. They have no choice but to accept the trip to America where there are fresh vegetables, and they have the chance of buying their own land! They have to leave behind Grandma and Grandad and say goodbye to their homeland. Granny encourages Darcy to keep the small beauties so the family can remember the happy times, not just the pain.
After weeks of travel they arrive in America, but it is a strange new world to them.
It is in this strange new world that Darcy brings forth her “small beauties”; an old slate chip from the family home’s hearthstone, some heather, an old wooden rosary bead, a little round moss-covered pebble and some dried buttercup blossoms. These are the small beauties that summon those wonderful familiar memories of Ireland. It is not all about hurt, pain and hunger now. These small beauties keep some of the happy memories alive. They mean so much to all of her family.
A charming picture book that gently draws young readers into what could otherwise be a very harsh time in history – the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1852. Charcoal and graphite pencil with oil illustrations bring to life the setting and characters. Although there are sad moments, the story is hopeful and encourages us to notice and treasure our family memories.
A former children’s librarian, Jane Fagan is currently a full-time mother of two.