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***Black Potatoes

The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850

by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Reviewed April 6, 2002.
Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.  Available at Sembach Library (J 941.508 BAR).

This book recently won the Robert F. Sibert Medal for children’s nonfiction, and the award was well-deserved.  Since about four of my distant ancestors came to America from Ireland during the Potato Famine years, I was already interested in the topic.  Going to Ireland last summer and seeing some famine cabins still standing further piqued my interest.

I’ve read novels about the famine before, but this book focused on the horrible facts.  This story is sad and terrible.  I don’t recommend it for young children.  Any adult or teen who is interested in the topic will find an excellent recounting of the facts.  The author outlines the chain of events and clearly explains the many factors that led to such horrible suffering.  She looks at individual cases as well as providing the big picture.  As she is writing for children, she never lets her writing get dry and boring--making it fascinating reading for anyone.

Did you know that the population of Ireland before the famine was over eight million, but that now--150 years later--it is only four million?  Did you know that over forty million people in the United States claim Irish ancestry?  At least one million people died during the famine years, and at least two and a half million left Ireland.  Yes, many people tried to help, but tragic misjudgments kept that help from doing what needed to be done.

This is an excellent telling of a sad but important story. 


Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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