Monday, November 28, 2016

The Red-Letter Day by SP McArdle

There's a story behind this story. The Red-Letter Day is a juvenile book for ages 8-12 by SP McArdle
who is related to my brother-in-law, Kevin. When we were in Dublin, Kevin's cousin, John Henry, mentioned their cousin had written a children's book about the Easter Rising. Because I am fascinated by that story, I ordered the book. Yes, the climax of the book is the Easter Rising, and McArdle published this on April 24, 2016, exactly one hundred years to the day from that event. But, her book is a children's book about the history of Ireland that requires some knowledge of that history. Because Irish children will know the history, McArdle doesn't name the historic sites or people until the end of the book.

The scenario is a little reminiscent of The Magic Treehouse books. Jenny has great adventures at the farmhouse owned by her aunt and uncle. There's a portal to history in one bedroom, and the guardian of the portal is a cranky gnome named Jeremiah. He uses a suitcase to send Jenny back in time, and he usually sets her watch for a certain date. This time, she finds herself sent back to find a special parchment and pen, and to touch the finished "Freedom Document" to come home again.

This time, Jeremiah doesn't provide a guide. When Jenny finds herself at a university in 1871, she meets a man in a black robe who says he's her guide, and says to call him O'Flahertie. She also encounters a man named Dorian, who "looks handsome, but underneath it's a different story." Her guide takes her inside an enormous library, and then to see a special book that sets her on her adventure. Her quest takes Jenny and "O'Flahertie" to 806 AD, where they follow the legendary giant Finn McCool, seeing the Giant's Causeway and the beehive huts that were once homes to monks.

As part of the journey, Jenny and O'Flahertie run into ten writers, five English and five Irish, who argue over a book. By now, Jenny has learned the significance of blue appearances or green ones. Those who are blue are ghosts, while green people have not actually been born yet. So, she's shaken when the final stop is 1916, and she realizes her guide should now be blue. And, she's shattered when she sees that the leaders of the rebellion in Dublin are all blue.

McArdle's first book in the Suitcase series is an excellent introduction to the story of Ireland for children. She plans future books about Paris and New York. While the adventure itself was fascinating, Jenny's conscience is a little awkward. She refers to the two sides of her nature as Risky Self and Sensible Self. That aspect seems unnecessary since she has a guide on her journey. Children will appreciate the book for Jenny's adventure. Adult readers, familiar with Irish history and literature, will recognize the figures and stories in the book, although they are not given names in the course of the novel.

Because few of you will ever read the book since it's available only from the author in Ireland, I'm going to mention a few of the facts that McArdle includes at the end of the book. Jenny originally lands at Trinity College in Ireland, where she sees The Book of Kells. Finn McCool is a giant in Irish legend, said to have built the Giant's Causeway. And, in 1916, Jenny witnesses the reading of the Irish Proclamation of Independence, read outside the Government Post Office in Dublin by Padraig Pearse during the Easter Rising. Along with the other men who signed the proclamation, he was executed.

And, Jenny's guide? He was a witty man who said, "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." "The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it." "Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer." Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde.

SP McArdle's website is

The Red-Letter Day by SP McArdle. 2016. ISBN 9780993582004 (paperback), 132p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought my copy of the book.

Trinity College Library

Trinity College
Beehive Huts

Oscar Wilde Statue in Merrion Square, Dublin


Reine said...

Lesa, I realized tonight that I look forward to your photos as much as your reviews. They're fun to look at, and they're informative.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Reine! If I'm going to include photos, I try to make them informative. Thank you so much!