Review: Bedtime Stories: Incredible Irish Tales from the Past

Written by Rachel Pierce
Cover Illustration, endpaper and border illustrations by Jennifer Davison

Other illustrations: Donough O’Malley, Erin Brown, Eva Byrne, Jennifer Davison, Linda Fahrlin, Lydia Hughes, Roisin Hahessy and Una Woods
Published by Scholastic

I am a huge fan of Rachel Pierce’s previous book, Ireland: The People, The Places, The Stories, so I was keen to dive into Bedtime Stories: Incredible Irish Tales from the Past which is a brilliantly engaging exploration of historical events in Ireland’s fascinating history. Each historical event is told through short 4-5 page stories, perfect for both bedtime and anytime reading, each introduced by a stunning full-page illustration and a further interior illustration.

This is a wonderful collection of stories, each introduced by an intriguing title and a short introduction often directly addressing the reader before sharing the story in a style that makes them perfect for reading aloud. Each story ends with a reference to somewhere you can visit, or a website/film reference, to keep the story alive and find out more – perfect for young historians!

There are 15 stories written by Rachel which cover a vast period of Irish history from the early 12th century to 2020! I have no idea how these stories were chosen, but I found every one utterly absorbing and read them over two evenings. These stories include historical figures from our distant past, scientists, pirates and slaves, sportsmen, barristers, and a pigeon!  I think what they all have in common are courage, resilience and determination – and a little of that Irish stubbornness! This collection is a wonderful way to have their stories heard and remembered.

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed all the stories and loved the breadth of history covered, I particularly appreciated the stories of the strong Irish women who pushed against the expectations of them in the period in which they were born:  Isabel de Clare who successfully defended against a siege on Kilkenny Castle; scientists Mary Ward (nee King) and Maude Delap; Bronze Olympic archery medallist, Beatrice Hill-Lowe; and, the first women to be become barristers in Britain and Ireland, Averil Deverell and Frances Kyle.  I also loved the story of Paddy the Pigeon who won the Dickin Medal in recognition of his bravery carrying coded messages during the Second World War.

As well as the 15 stories by Rachel, there is also a wonderful story by a young reader who was a winner in the Children’s Books Ireland creative writing competition.  This one really struck a chord with me as I was going through my late father’s coin collection (which I didn’t know he had!) when I was home in Ireland over the summer and, amongst his collection, was an old ‘pingin’ penny from 1941 with a mother hen and her chicks. 

The illustrations which are included at the start of, and within, each story are beautiful and complement this special collection perfectly. There is a stunning montage of the main images at the start and end of the collection of stories. There is further information about each illustrator included at the end of the book: Donough O’Malley, Erin Brown, Eva Byrne, Jennifer Davison, Linda Fahrlin, Lydia Hughes, Roisin Hahessy and Una Woods.

This is a fantastic collection of inspirational stories celebrating Ireland’s rich past, both distant and more recent, perfect as a read aloud for younger children and for older children to explore independently.  This gorgeous hardback, beautifully illustrated, edition would make a special Christmas gift which I have no doubt would be a treasured and much-loved possession.

Thank you to Harriet Dunlea and Scholastic for providing me with an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

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