Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Breda's Island

Foley, Jessie Ann. Breda's Island
July 12th 2022 by Quill Tree Books

Breda lives in Chicago, but her mother, who left Ireland at 18 when she was pregnant with Breda, is very busy running her own hair salon and has little time for her daughter. Breda has taken to stealing small items, but the last straw is when she steals a fellow student's gym shorts after hers are ruined by period stains. Her mother, flashy but forthright, has promised to send Breda to live with her grandfather in Ireland for the summer if she gets caught again, and makes arrangements right away. Breda isn't thrilled with the idea, but summer in Chicago isn't going to be all that exciting. Her grandfather has a small farm not too far from town, and provides Breda with a bicycle. He gives her a lot of freedom to wander around, and asks only that she not go into one pub in town owned by the Fahey's. Breda's grandmother died of cancer when her mother was very small, and her grandfather has a friend, Noeleen, who helps out a bit, and accompanies Breda to the pub when her grandfather performs as a seanchaí, telling stories about Ireland and its past. Caught in the rain one day with her bike, Breda takes refuge in the Fahey's forbidden pub and meets Nellie, who is just a bit older than she is, and who invites her to play Irish football with her friends. She ends up enjoying it, and feels more connected to the farm when she helps her grandfather with a cow experiencing a breech birth. The grandfather (who must be around my age), has night terrors due to his difficult childhood, and also suffers from arthritis, making some chores and climbing his favorite hill hard. Having never been told about her father, Breda does some investigation into which man among the locals might have known her mother, and comes to a surprising conclusion. Will Breda's summer help her grandfather and mother to reconcile?

I am always a fan of books that allow me to travel virtually, especially when they involve children reconnecting with grandparents! There are plenty of good details about the farm and local life, and it's even better that Breda is fairly positive about her time in another country. There are moments where she's not enjoying herself, but that's very realistic. The details about her mother's immigration status are also helpful, and explain why the two have never traveled to visit the grandfather. There is a short discussion in Breda's school in Chicago about "illegal aliens", and Breda gets in a bit of an argument with her teacher, knowing that her mother is undocumented. I find it hard to believe that a teacher would tell a class "That's just the term we use for criminals who come to our country illegally," but it is good to see this topic addressed. 

The grandfather's storytelling is a nice touch, and his childhood touches on an interesting historical topic that would make for some fascinating reading, although maybe not for twelve year olds! It's a good way for him to deliver information to Breda on difficult topics. Noeleen taking Breda to the site of the orphanage was very effective. 

There are not as many books set in Ireland as there should be; Callaghan's Lost in Ireland (2016), Welch's Luck and Love (2018), Supplee's When Irish Guys are Smiling (2008), and Webb's Ask Amy Green (2010) series are some of the few I can think of. This read a bit more like McCullough's Across the Pond (2021) or Savage's Nessie Quest (2020), both of which are set in Scotland but have a more similar vibe. 

I'm debating whether or not to buy this. The cover is not great, and my students are not as fond of books about travel as I would like them to be. 
Ms. Yingling

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