CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 18. . . .May 1, 2009
The reader is first introduced to 13-year-old Bridget Quinlan as her family and a visiting peddler named Paddy Coady prepare to sit down to a meal of her mother's "pratees," the remains of "one of the nicest crops we ever grew." This is followed by an explanation of the poor circumstances in which the Quinlans find themselves as tenants of the rich Lord Horwell. This information allows readers to understand why Bridget worries about her brother Sean's absence at dinner and gives readers an understanding of the overall situation at the beginning of the potato famine. The Quinlans face many disasters. Their situation goes from bad to worse as they lose not only their crop but shortly thereafter a member of the family to typhus and another to an uncertain fate when he is caught trying to steal food. They are faced with no choice but to head for the coast and the possibility of a new life in Canada, although Bridget continues to face tragedy and adversity.
Bridget's story is presented as a very black and white tale. The short length of the book precludes presenting the characters in any great depth with the exception of Bridget who is shown as having a love of music that allows her to earn money that sustains her family as the people around her are unable to support themselves. Bridget's life in Ireland and aboard the ship is an unrelenting tale of sadness, misfortune and death. This ends from "that moment" that Bridget and Caitlin are taken in by good-hearted family in Quebec and the reader is told about the "care and kindness" that would characterize the rest of their lives. Even the question of their brother's fate is more a matter when he will return to them rather than whether he will. This lowers the age range for Bridget's Black '47, making it a more suitable introduction for younger readers who will be comforted by the happier ending or would not be made impatient by the easy explanations for Sean's reappearance. Older readers or children looking for more information will be interested in either Susan Campbell Bartoletti's Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish famine, 1845-1850 or Caroline Pignat's Greener Grass.
Betsy Fraser is the Community Outreach Librarian at Calgary Public Library's Crowfoot Library.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.