Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Review: Small Beauties

Presenting another picture book dangerous for the sentimental adult reader.

Small Beauties: The Journey of Darcy Heart O'Hara tells the tale of the Irish Potato Famine and resulting mass emigration through one small girl's experience.

Darcy Heart O'Hara is born the seventh child and first girl. "'One day this child shall hold the very heart of our family in the palm of her hand,' Granny predicted. So they named the infant Darcy Heart O'Hara."

Darcy's life on her family's farm is busy and full. She has to take care of the animals and help around the house. The family relaxes to Granddad's stories "of brave heroes on white steeds and moonlit glens filled with little folk and fairy queens." Darcy stands out from the children of her village from the start: "She was a noticer. She stopped to notice small beauties wherever she went."

Darcy picks up the small beauties--pebbles, feathers and flowers--wherever she goes. It's a simple life filled with beauty. But then the crops fail, two times in a row. The family is evicted and their cottage destroyed. The family has no choice. They take the voyage to American offered to them. Heartbreakingly, Granny and Granddad stay behind.

  • "Later that day, Darcy took one last walk with Granny down Derry Lane. ''Tis a big ocean that will soon be between us,' Granny whispered, a tear rolling down her wrinkled cheek. 'And the years will come and go like so many waves upon the shore. I'm countin' on you, my girl, you who notice so much. With all those small beauties you keep, here is one more.' She pressed the worn bead back into Darcy's hand. 'Help the other to remember, and not just the sadness, the hurt, and the hunger. Help them to remember all the beauty they left behind.'"

The worn bead? A bead from Granny's rosary destroyed when the Crown burned down the O'Hara's cottage. Okay. I dare you not to cry reading that aloud to a child.

Darcy's small beauties--a stone from their cottage, the bead, heather, etc.--help their family adjust in the new world. They bring back Graddad's stories, Granny's humming, and the sights, sounds, and smells of home.

Elvira Woodruff's text is at once lyrical and direct, and Adam Rex's illustrations are simply beautiful. Small Beauties is most appropriate for children ages seven and up due to subject matter and reading level. It's also highly recommended.