This is the third in the Bantry Bay series by Hilda van Stockum, which includes The Cottage at Bantry Bay and Francie on the Run. I've read them all aloud to the children, experiencing them right along with them because I didn't read any of them ahead of time. These delightful stories follow the antics and every day lives of a family of five children in Ireland, including twin boys. In Pegeen, a young girl befriended by Francie on his adventures in Francie on the Run, visits after her Grannie dies while awaiting word from her guardian uncle in America. She's half-wild but innocent, sweet-tempered, and fiercely devoted to Francie and his family. The children and I fell in love with her! More than once, we lost track of time while listening (or reading aloud).
The Catholic faith of Pegeen, Father Kelly (her priest who guides her while awaiting news from her guardian), Francie, and her family all shine through the pages, though never pedantic. When Pegeen worries her grandmother will feel out of place in the grandeur of heaven, Father Kelly comforts her.
Father Kelly's lips twitched. "Surely ye don't believe that God would promise us happiness an' then pay no attention to our wishes, trying to please us with what we don't want?" he asked, playing with Pegeen's curls. "Ye may be sure He knows exactly what Grannie would like most, an' He'll give it to her. For 'Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man what things God hath prepared for them that love Him.'"The children romp over the fields in a manner befitting the wonder celebrated in Poetic Knowledge and the freedom mourned in Last Child in the Woods. Francie and Liam, twins about seven years old, imagine themselves warriors in past battles.
They made quick work of them, slaughtering everyone mercilessly, but they still had to destroy the guns. That was the best fun of all. Liam came with his arms full of dry sticks and Francie found some matches in his pocket. Very soon they had a bonfire as elegant as the real one must have been, some two hundred and fifty years ago. In fact, it was such an excellent one, and they had chosen their spot so well, that with a little encouragement Mr. Dolan's hayrick would have joined in the conflagration. Luckily the farmer spotted it in time, chasing the boys with a few bitter words and smothering the lovely flames with shovelfuls of earth. The twins watched it from a safe distance.
"No one'll ever let us have a bit of fun," said Francie, mournfully.The author knew Ireland intimately and must have loved it. The descriptions lure us to Ireland as surely as they encourage us to delight in the beauty of our own homes.
Pegeen stepped out into the road, digging her bare toes into the dew-drenched earth and swinging her kettle merrily. She loved to surprise the first meeting of the sun with the blushing sky, before the day had properly begun. Over grass and low shrubs lay light webby cloaks sparkling with jewels. These the fairies had left behind when they fled with the night, Pegeen knew. A rabbit loped across the way, scattering drops like a fountain as he burrowed hurriedly under the bushes. Pegeen sniffed the sharp autumn smells and filled her lungs with new air.Mother, Father, Francie, Liam, Pegeen...they are all real. Mother says, speaking of a pet rabbit:
"I was vexed with the beast, an' that's foolishness, for he only does what nature has taught him to do. But there, it's hard to keep a family going an' keep your temper as well."When Pegeen asks her if she likes real babies:
"I like 'em a sight too much for me own good," said Mother crisply.Later, Mother tells a story. It was like seeing our family as I imagine it (and perhaps not as it is in real life). At the end, tears are in her eyes.
"But Own chose the right thing, didn't he?" asked Pegeen. "There's nothing to be sad about, is there?"
"Arra, leave her alone. Mothers do be having tears tucked in the corners of their eyes that will come out, regardless," said Father.My children laughed and nodded knowingly.
Irish folktales and history are woven throughout the book, too, just as tales of the American Revolution or St. Nicholas might in our own family. Pegeen surprises and enthralls the local teacher and her classmates with a recitation of one of the tales of Cuchulain. Later, she imagines herself in heaven and sees her revered heroes there.
She saw King Conor with his purple mantle and Emer, Cuchulain's wife, who possessed the six gifts of womanhood: the gift of beauty, the gift of song, the gift of sweet words, the gift of ready hands, the gift of wisdom, and the gift of modesty.Six gifts worth pursuing.
We just finished this book last Thursday and I was delighted to see Bethlehem Books announce a Mardi Gras sale because I was forced to write about it promptly so I could tell you all about the sale as well.
On Monday, the 8th (today!), and Tuesday, the 9th, Bethlehem Books is offering 51% off all print and ebooks with coupon code mardi51 at checkout.
In addition to the Bantry Bay series, Bethlehem publishes the wonderful Fairchild Family series (which I wrote about here), and the Mitchells series (mentioned here and here).
We have also enjoyed many of their historical fiction publications: Victory on the Walls, Hittite Warrior, God King, The Winged Watchman, The Reb and the Redcoats, Old Sam Dakota Trotter, Nacar the White Deer, Madeleine Takes Command, and Archimedes and the Door of Science. (Just to mention a few.)
Basically, I have come to trust this publisher and therefore feel confident in recommending them and sharing about their current sale.
I receive nothing from Bethlehem Books for this post or if you make a purchase. I bought Francie on the Run and Pegeen for the Kindle at a similar sale last year. (I bought an old hardcover edition of The Cottage at Bantry Bay on Cathswap years ago.) The Amazon links above are affiliate links.