About the Holiday
First celebrated in 1991, Irish-American Heritage Month commemorates the many contributions of Irish immigrants in America’s early days and the continuing influence Irish-Americans have on the arts, politics, sports, business, education, and all areas of American culture. The month of March was chosen to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, one of the most enthusiastically honored holidays, with parades, parties, and ceremonies held in cities and town all across the country.
By Patricia Polacco
In Fiona’s Lace author-illustrator Patricia Polacco weaves a tale of family love and America’s early immigrant heritage that is as intricate and lovely as the lace the family makes. The story begins in Ireland, where Fiona and her sister Ailish live with their muther and da. They live happily in Glen Kerry, where their father works in the textile mill and their mother teaches Fiona her art of lace making.
In the evenings the girls are entertained by family stories, especially their favorite about how, when their parents first met, their mother left a trail of lace from the factory to her house for her young suitor to follow.
When the textile mill closes, Fiona’s family signs a contract indenturing themselves to a family in Chicago. The voyage to America is long and arduous, but when they arrive in Chicago they marvel at the grand houses and elegant clothes, imagining that this awaits them too in their new home. The reality, however, is much different. Their two-room apartment is ramshackle, and only by working two jobs can their parents make enough money to live on.
Fiona wants to help and soon finds that dressmakers will pay handsomely for the lace she makes. The family’s money tin begins to fill up and they are prospering. One night while Muther and Da are away working, a fire rages through Chicago. Fiona and Ailish escape with only the money tin and Fiona’s lace. They run far from home, but worry—how will their parents find them?
Remembering their favorite story, Fiona cuts her lace into strips and ties bits of it along their route to their hiding place. The girls cower in fear until they hear the familiar voices of their parents. Happily reunited, the family lets go of what they have lost, but Ailish cries over the now sooty, torn lace. Ma reassures her and brings comfort, revealing that far from being ruined, this scorched lace is the most valuable and cherished of all because it saved the family.
Patricia Polacco’s heartwarming and harrowing story of an Irish immigrant family is a beautiful reminder of the unique talents and strong bonds that built America and continue to help her prosper today. Readers will be enthralled by Polacco’s realistic dialogue and detailed storytelling in this compelling and suspenseful tale and will cheer as Fiona cleverly uses her ma and pa’s trick and her own skills to save her family.
Polacco’s gorgeous illustrations bring the time period alive for young readers, portraying the intricate art of lacemaking and the clothing styles that made use of this delicate trimming. Her depictions of tenement living are realistic, yet reveal the love and close family ties within through a warm color palette and the inclusion of cozy comforts brought from Ireland.
Fiona’s Lace is a heartfelt and thoughtful family and immigration story and would be a wonderful addition to classroom and home libraries.
Ages: 4 – 8
Simon & Schuster Books for Young People, 2014 | ISBN 978-1442487246
Discover more about Patricia Polacco and her many, many books on her website!
Irish-American Heritage Month Activity
Follow the Lace Game
While Fiona and her sister used a lace trail to lead their parents to their hiding place, you can have fun making a hide-and-seek game for your friends. This game can be played inside or outside
- 1 or 2 yards of lace, cut into sections about 6-inches each. You can use lace to celebrate Lace Day or use string, ribbon, or other kinds of material
- Choose something to hide – this can be a toy, a secret letter, a snack, or anything
- Hide the item you choose in a secret place
- Determine the starting place for your hide-and-seek game
- Along the route from the starting point to the hidden item, tie the sections of lace onto things like lamps, furniture, stair banisters, door knobs, etc. if you’re playing inside. If you are playing outside, tie it onto trees, bushes, bird feeders, swing sets, etc.
- For very young children the trail of lace can be straightforward; for older children the trail can be longer and more difficult