Susan Wojciechowski has devised a newfangled fairy tale from an ancient holiday. The premise of A Fine St. Patrick's Day is neatly summed up on the opening page: "For as far back as anyone could remember, the towns of Tralee and Tralah had been rivals. Every year on St. Patrick's Day, they held a contest to see which town could decorate best for the holiday. And though the people of Tralee tried their hardest, they never won."
So what will happen this year?
The answer comes from Fiona Riley of Tralee, a "wee lass of six" who suggests that the town paint everything bright green. The townsfolk agree, and little Fiona picks out a shade called Limerick Lime. Suddenly, however, preparations are interrupted by a strange little man with a long red beard who gallops into town on a big white horse. He goes from door to door, first in Tralah, begging for help, because his cows are stuck in the mud. At every house in Tralah, he is turned away. Folks there are much too busy preparing for the contest, trying to beat their rival. Over in Tralee, of course, it's a different story. Everyone readily agrees to help the stranger rescue his cows. I won't say what happens next, but the conclusion is fitting, with the contest resolved in an unexpected, pleasing way.
Tom Curry's illustrations, painted in acrylics, are marvelous, with textures so rich they seem like collages. The many hues of green in the book provide the perfect backdrop for the comings and goings of the citizens of Tralee. The world Curry has created feels like that of a traditional fairy tale, but it has a decidedly funky atmosphere.
A Fine St. Patrick's Day provides a great starting point for discussions with young readers about the history of St. Patrick's Day, the nature of fairy tales and the good and bad aspects of competition. No doubt the many shamrocks inside the book will bring readers a fine helping of good luck!
Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts. Copyright 2004 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2004 Fall
In the St. Patrick's Day contest with rival burg Tralah, young Fiona Riley's idea to paint the town green gives the town of Tralee hope for a win. When Tralee stops painting to help a red-bearded little man in green, it looks like they've sacrificed their chance to win. This folk-like tale of kindness rewarded features a winning heroine and lots of atmosphere in the rich illustrations. Copyright 2004 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2004 #1
This folk-like tale of kindness rewarded features a winning young heroine, a traditional story arc, and plenty of Emerald Isle atmosphere in the richly colored illustrations. The town of Tralee is excited about this year's plan for the annual St. Patrick's Day decoration contest with rival burg Tralah. Fiona Riley, "though she's but a wee lass of six," comes up with the fine idea to paint all of Tralee green, giving the townsfolk hope that they'll win the trophy for the first time ever. On the day before the holiday, as both towns busily prepare for the contest, a red-bearded little man dressed in green arrives, looking for help with his cows: "sure and begorra, they are stuck in the mud!" In Tralah he is turned away at every door he knocks on, but when he appeals to the people of Tralee, the whole town puts down their paintbrushes to help, knowing they've sacrificed their chance for the trophy. Or have they? Their generosity begets a greater prize, and Fiona Riley has an idea for next year: no more contests--from now on they'll decorate the town "simply for the joy of it." Wojciechowski tells a fine story that reads well aloud; Curry's drolly mock-primitive paintings practically glow with color and bristle with texture. Practice your brogue, and sure and begorra, start working some story-hour magic. Copyright 2004 Horn Book Magazine Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 2003 December #2
Though the author makes a bit of a leap at the end, this original tale, celebrating the benefits of generosity over ambition, makes worthwhile reading. The more goal-oriented town of Tralah always beats rival Tralee in the annual St. Patrick's Day decoration contest-until one year when the Tralahvians turn away a wee man who comes to their doors begging for help to free his cows from the mud. With only a little reluctance, the Traleenians leave off their frantic decorating to lend a hand, and wake the next morning to find their entire town painted a deep, prizewinning green. Then the citizens of Tralee enjoy their victory feast so much that they decide to chuck future competition and just have the dinner. Curry places the thatch-roofed, quaint-looking villages amid verdant, rolling fields, and though Wojciechowski never comes right out with it, the "little man," dressed in a long, pointed hat and curly-toed shoes, has a recognizably leprechaunish look. A thought- and discussion-provoking tale that shouldn't be relegated to the "holiday" shelves. (Picture book. 5-8) Copyright Kirkus 2003 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2004 October
Tralee and Tralah have competed in a St. Patrick's Day contest every year to see which town could decorate best for the holiday. Each year, Tralah wins. One day, while the towns are getting ready, a leprechaun rides in needing help with his cows. The people of Tralah are too busy decorating and don't help, while the people of Tralee decide to help, but as a result can't finish their decorating. In the middle of the night, the leprechaun finishes their work. Tralee, after finally winning, decides not to compete again. This is an enjoyable story with attractive, whimsical full-page painted illustrations that demonstrate helping others as rewarding and enjoyable. It will make a good addition to the holiday collection. Recommended. Allison Bernstein, Educational Materials Reviewer, Norfolk, Massachusetts © 2004 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2004 January #1
Are decorations, parties and all the trimmings what make a holiday special? Wojciechowski (The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey) explores this notion in a lively original folktale about compassion and cooperation-with a bit o' Irish magic thrown in. For years the villages of Tralee and Tralah have competed in the annual St. Patrick's Day decorating contest. And never yet has Tralee claimed the gold shamrock given to the winner. But six-year-old Fiona Riley has a sure-fire plan. In the midst of the villages' flurry of preparations, however, "a little man on a large horse" gallops into the two towns seeking help to rescue his stranded herd of cows. The residents of Tralah refuse to break from their decorating and soundly turn the man away. Crossing the meadow, the man finds an ally in Fiona Riley, who rallies her Tralee neighbors to his aid. Rewarded for their kindness, the people of Tralee win the contest in a most satisfying finish. The author's smooth storytelling and steady pace create a vivid setting, and her tale delivers a solid, never treacly message. In boldly colored acrylics, Curry (The Bootmaker and the Elves) creates a bucolic Old World mood using simple, rounded shapes, which include expanses of emerald green hillside. His distinctive technique produces a striking texture, sometimes akin to oil or pastel on a slightly rough canvas, sometimes tapestry-like and, in other instances, crisp and smooth. All told, an arresting series of compositions. Ages 5-8. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2004 January
K-Gr 3-The towns of Tralee and Tralah hold a competition each year to see which one can devise the most spectacular decorations for St. Patrick's Day. Tralah has always won, but this year little Fiona Riley has an idea that may give Tralee a chance at garnering the golden shamrock-paint everything green. The night before the contest, a tiny man dressed in green with pointy ears and bells on his boots rides frantically through both towns, begging help for his cows, which are stuck in the mud in the river. The citizens of Tralah flatly refuse as they are too busy decorating, but the people of Tralee come to his aid, knowing it will cost them the prize. Their task completed, they drop into bed exhausted. In the morning, the stranger is gone, but their town is painted "shimmering, glimmering, glorious green-from the wee doghouses to the tall spire of the church," and the shamrock is theirs. Wojciechowski has a pleasing way with words, and the text flows gracefully from beginning to end. Curry's acrylic paintings have jewel-bright blues and greens nicely tempered by softer shades of brown. The folk-art style complements the folktale feel of this pleasant story about the rewards of kindness and community.-Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.