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Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850 Paperback – May 2, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 6 Up-In the 1800s, potatoes were the staple food and source of income for the Irish. When blight struck the crop in 1845, they faced not only economic deprivation, but also starvation. Laborers sold their possessions for a few meals. Families unable to obtain enough food for their families had to choose who would eat, who would enter the workhouse, and who had to scrape by as best they could. Relief efforts by the English were meager and insufficient, particularly as the famine continued in Ireland for five years. More than one million people died in a five year span. Another two million emigrated to America, Canada, Australia, and other countries, extending the economic and political impact of the Irish potato famine. Bartoletti discusses both the political climate and historical events in her book (Houghton Mifflin, 2001), and intertwines them with personal accounts of individuals who lived through this time period. Traditional poetry and prose are woven throughout this volume, brought to life by narrator Graeme Malcolm, whose Irish lilt adds authenticity to the recording. A fine addition to middle and high school libraries.-Amanda Rollins, Northwest Village School, Plainville, CTα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Gr. 6-12. Through the voices of the Irish people, Bartoletti tells the history of the Great Irish Famine of the late 1840s. Eyewitness accounts and memories combine with devastating facts: one million died from starvation and disease; two million emigrated; the famine could have been avoided; the legacy was a bitter resentment against the English, who owned most of Ireland. The year-by-year political history is occasionally heavy going; but, as she did in Growing Up in Coal Country (1996), a Booklist Editors' Choice, Bartoletti humanizes the big events by bringing the reader up close to the lives of ordinary people. There are heartbreaking accounts of evictions, of the Irish starving while food is exported to England, and of deaths in the coffin ships that took the desperate to North America. The text is broken up with many black-and-white drawings from newspapers of the time, and a long final essay includes information about books, primary sources, library collections, and Web sites that readers can turn to for school reports and for research into their own family histories. It's a wonder there are so few nonfiction books about this subject for young people. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 5 - 7
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (May 2, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618548831
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618548835
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,945 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Susan Campbell Bartoletti is the award-winning author of several books for young readers, including Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850, winner of the Robert F. Sibert Medal. She lives in Moscow, Pennsylvania. Annika Maria Nelson studied printmaking at the University of Vienna in Austria and at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She lives in Southern California.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Francie on July 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The potato blight that struck Ireland in the mid 1800s produced a nation-wide famine, resulting in "one million dead and two million who fled" to other countries, predominately the US and Canada. Countless other Irishmen, with no food, money or homes, simply disappeared. Susan Campbell Bartoletti's "Black Potatoes" recreates the era year by year from haunting contemporary newspaper illustrations, government records and first hand survivor stories, told to their children and grandchildren.
Bartoletti provides a balanced account of the economic, political and social repercussions of the blight and the ensuing famine. Food was available but the poor did not have the means to acquire it. The British government was slow to react to the devastation. Irish government officials, landowners, and shopkeepers worked to protect their own interests but, finally, in the end, contributed the greatest amount of financial support to the poor. The Friends Church, operating local soup kitchens, and American relatives, sending millions of dollars in financial support, were allies of the Irish poor during these times.
This book is a wonderful historical recounting of the time and is compelling reading for those of all ages interested in their Irish heritage. Bartoletti brings the horrors of famine and poverty to life. The 150-year old drawings, originally published in the "Illustrated London News", will stay with the reader long after the book is finished. The six-page narrative bibliography is as interesting as the story itself, and provides students and researchers with numerous sources for further study.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Susan Campbell Bartoletti, already well known for her award-winning fiction and nonfiction, has reached new heights with this book. It is clearly impeccably researched, yet never reads like a dry compilation of facts. It is by turns moving, horrifying, hopeful, and depressing. Although she points out the general indifference and (often) hostility of some government officials who could have provided some relief, she never falls into the easy trap of making anyone the villain of the terrible story of the Irish potato famine. Instead, she details the general ignorance of the cause of the blight and the sometimes well-meaning but misguided attempts of different people to remedy the situation.
Most importantly, the reader leaves feeling that this is not some strange thing that happened to unknown people a long time ago. The feeling of immediacy, and the way the reader is led to empathize with the sufferers, make it fresh and real.
Readers of "Nory Ryan's Song" who want to get the real history of this terrible time should be encouraged to read "Black Potatoes."
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By K. Sundin on March 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
An interesting and worthwhile history, made more palatable than a textbook by the extensive quotations of personal accounts and contemporary newspaper illustrations.

Broad in scope and adequate in depth, the book treats the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1850 with a sensitive, compassionate tone, spending great time on the human toll of the Famine, as well as the diseases it invited and the social upheaval it instigated.

Bartoletti vividly illustrates the dehumanizing and horrifying experience of the starving Irish, and explicitly eschews diplomacy to explore the economic and political causes. The book also explores both the (perceived or actual) maintenance and possible exacerbation of the crisis by the English government and the English landlords. Bartoletti concludes that the awkward and faltering relief was so unwillingly given because of staunchly protected laissez-faire economics as well as cultural biases and prejudice against the Irish. These factors created a political climate where merely the forecast of improvement caused the English to quit relief programs, often too soon, thus causing the situation to worsen for the Irish, creating staggering costs - in pounds as well as in lives.

Brief treatment of revolutionary activity is included, as well as interesting exposition of folk beliefs and practices.

This book avoids the "boring history" noose of more densely-written academic works, and is clearly targeted at young adults with its narrative style, but I recommend this for anyone wishing to read more deeply on this subject. Definitely written from an Irish point of view, but well researched and rich in original sources.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Robert Barry on April 26, 2008
Format: Paperback
Black Potatoes is a very readable and understandable review of the important elements of the Irish potato famine of the 1840s. Wishing to learn more about this essential event in my Irish-American heritage, I read the book, The Great Hunger, which is offered and reviewed separately at this site. I mistakenly thought that would be a better read than Black Potatoes which is advertised as being for a high-school audience. But all the essentials of The Great Hunger were delivered in less than 1/3 the text by Black Potatoes, which of course is a much faster and informative read. In addition, it carries many sketches which make the story that much more vivid and imaginable, while there are many fewer in The Great Hunger which seems itself written more from the British point of view than the Irish (the author of Hunger was herself British). Black Potatoes is an excellent way to get a rapid understanding of that pivotal five-year period in Irish history.
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