by Barbara Shook Hazen
illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
I know I'm not the only one. We've all, young and old, made a reckless wish at some point in our lives. But do you remember if your wish, whispered in haste and sometimes anger, seemed to come true? Perhaps you can recall the agony of wondering if what followed was all your fault...
In Ireland, a little girl named Katie is tired of plain-boiled potatoes. They weren't the way Mam made them- lashed with milk, onion bits, and knobs of butter. But her mam is dead and her da has left to make a way for them in America and she always seems to say the wrong thing. When she mutters, "I wish they'd go away,"after Grand Da asks the blessing for the meal, she can't take those words back.
We know how it happened overnight.
One day the potatoes were firm and fine. The next they were mushy and covered with black spots.
As the rot spreads quickly through the countryside, Katie tries to be extra good, gathering berries and grass to help their meals stretch further. She accompanies Grand Da to sell the pig, and in town, they see children begging. Grannie becomes ill, and even though the Americans send shiploads of corn, Grand Da declares, "It's like spitting on a house to put out the fire!"
Woven with traditional Irish phrases and painted in soft, dusky watercolors, the story of how Katie makes her way to America carrying her terrible secret is a moving and sometimes difficult tale to read. My mama heart longed for Katie's mam to be with her, to coax the pain out of her, to speak truth. My children and I solemnly gazed at the pictures of the crowded ship, filled with sick and crying children and their weary parents.
But when at last, at a warm table in America covered by a mountain of mashed potatoes with onion bits, lashings of milk, and a knob of butter, in a tumble of tears, Katie confesses her reckless wish...
"Nay," Katie's da said, holding her heart-close. "Believe me, your words weren't wicked. Nor can words make bad things happen. None of it was your doing.
Eat, Katie lass, and know how big you are loved."