Best Children's Books of Irish Folktales and Fairy Tales

Enjoy Them Year Round, Not Just for St. Patrick's Day

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If you're looking for children’s books for St. Patrick's Day, want your children to learn more about their Irish heritage through children’s books, or are anxious to find stories that will engage their imaginations, you can find them in Irish folk and fairy tales. Eight of these books contain folk and fairy tales; one is part of the popular Magic Tree House series and another is about the importance of preserving family stories. All can be enjoyed read aloud with the family, as well as recreational reading for independent readers.

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Tales from Old Ireland

Malachy Doyle's book is a fascinating anthology of Irish folk and fairy tales, greatly enhanced by the artwork of Niamh Shakey. The seven stories include "The Children of Lir," a well-known folktale, "Fair, Brown, and Trembling," an Irish Cinderella story, and "The Twelve Wild Geese," a tale of family love and loyalty. Some of the tales are unsettling, some are sad, some have satisfying conclusions; all have a depth missing in many modern retellings. The book comes with companion CDs. (Barefoot Books, 2000. ISBN: 9781846862410)

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Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland

Celebrate St. Patricks's Day with Tomie dePaola's captivating folk-art style illustrations and engaging story of Patrick, a boy who grew up to become the patron saint of Ireland. This book is best recommended for 4- to 8-year-olds as well as older children. Patrick’s life and his faith are fittingly presented in both the text and illustrations. It's also a treat to find, at the end of the book, illustrated accounts of five legends associated with St Patrick. (Holiday House, 1994. ISBN: 9780823410774)

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Finn McCool and the Great Fish

The combination of the retelling by Eve Bunting and the illustrations by Zachary Pullen make the picture book a lot of fun. The legendary giant is full of kindness but lacking in wisdom so off he goes on a quest for wisdom. The illustrations humorously show the contrast between the huge Finn and the ordinary Irish villagers. Kindness prevails in this tale as Finn obtains wisdom while remaining the kindest of giants. (Sleeping Bear Press, 2010. ISBN: 9781585363667)

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A Pot O' Gold

The content in A Pot O' Gold: A Treasury of Irish Stories, Poetry, Folklore, and (Of Course) Blarney was selected and adapted by Kathleen Krull. The charming watercolor illustrations are by David McPhail. The selections are divided into five categories: The Sea, The Food, The Music, The Pride, The Scholars, The Land, The Fairies, The Leprechauns, and The Blarney. Source notes are provided in this 182-page book, which has selections for all ages. (Hyperion Books for Children, 2009, PB. ISBN:9781423117520)

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Magic Tree House Fact Tracker #21: Leprechauns and Irish Folklore

While subtitled A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House #43: Leprechaun in Late Winter, this Magic Tree House Fact Tracker can also be enjoyed on its own by young readers in grades 2-4. The book by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce will appeal to kids who enjoy nonfiction books, with interesting facts, photographs, and other illustrations. (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2010. ISBN: 9780375860096)  For more about the Magic Tree House, read Magic Tree House Resources for Parents and Teachers.

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The St. Patrick's Day Shillelagh

The St. Patrick's Day Shillelagh, a picture storybook for 8- to 12-year-olds, is about the importance of passing on family stories and traditions from one generation to the next. Janet Nolan tells the story of young Fergus who immigrated to the U.S. with his family during the potato famine. His story and the shillelagh he carved from the branch of a favorite tree are shared every St. Patrick's Day. Ben Stahl's realistic paintings lend a feeling of authenticity to the story. (Albert Whitman & Company, 2002. ISBN: 0807573442, 2002. ISBN: 0807573442)

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Fair, Brown & Trembling: An Irish Cinderella Story

This tale is an Irish variant of the traditional Cinderella story. A widower has three daughters: Fair and Beauty, who are spoiled and mean, and Trembling, whose sisters mistreat her. The henwife acts as Trembling’s fairy godmother, sending her, not to a ball, but to church. Her lost slipper and a prince willing to fight for her result in a “happily ever after” ending. Jude Daly’s strong folk-art style paintings add interest to the story. (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2000. ISBN: 0374422575)

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The Prince of Ireland and the Three Magic Stallions

According to the author’s note, this story “…is one of those very old stories that can be found in hundreds of different versions.” This picture storybook retelling by Bryce Milligan, with illustrations by Preston McDaniels, is full of drama and adventure. It involves a jealous stepmother, a giant, the brave young Prince of Ireland, a good deed, and more. McDaniels’ whimsical illustrations add to the enjoyment for 6- to 10-year-olds. (Holiday House, 2003. ISBN: 0823415732).

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Tales for the Telling: Irish Folk & Fairy Stories

There are twelve tales in Edna O’Brien’s collection, each of which is illustrated with the watercolor paintings of Michael Foreman. More in-depth background information on the tales would further enhance this volume, however, O’Brien is an excellent storyteller and her retellings, along with Foreman’s entertaining artwork, will engage children 8 and older as well as adults. The stories include “Two Giants,” “The Leprechaun,” “The Swan Bride,” and “The White Cat.” (Atheneum, 1986. ISBN: 0689313187) 

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A Treasury of Irish Stories

This book is a good read-aloud. Because a number of the words will be unfamiliar to children, it is not well suited for independent reading, although some of the individual stories are. What makes this collection of 17 tales unique is that the stories include both retellings of traditional tales and original contemporary tales by well-known Irish storytellers. This is a relatively small, softbound book with modest, but clever, black and white illustrations. (Kingfisher, 1995. ISBN: 9781856975957)