O’Sullivan Stew, by Hudson Talbot, is a fun choice for St. Patrick’s Day reading, since it’s set in Ireland. The story begins with Kate O’Sullivan seeing the local witch’s horse confiscated by the king’s soldiers. Though she tries to get help from the other villagers, she is unable to rouse them to help the witch. The witch is angry and brings bad luck on the villagers.
Kate decides that the solution is to regain the witch’s horse by stealing it back from the king. She persuades her father and brothers to help her do so, but they are caught. Facing the king, Kate persuades the king to let her go — if she can tell a good story about a time when she was in a worse predicament than the one in which she finds herself.
Kate’s storytelling ability is such that she is able to win freedom for all her brothers, and a twist at the end shows that her father is a hero. She regains the horse, the witch is touched by her kindness, and the king asks Kate to marry him. Kate declines, saying that she is off to have some adventures, but that she’ll be back in five years and will take him up on the offer then if it is still open.
The sprightly pictures and many saucy details make this book a fun readaloud, even for students who are well able to read for themselves. After you’ve enjoyed the tale, here are some other things you might do with the book:
- Each of the stories Kate tells within the main story is filled with action and adventure. Challenge students to come up with their own retellings of these stories in an interesting new form. Divide them into groups and let them choose their own approaches — maybe you’ll get a comic strip, a news report, or a rock opera.
- Having read the book and retold the stories within the story, analyze the structure of the stories. Find the beginning, middle, and end, the events leading up to the climax of the story and the resolution of the situation. Having drawn conclusions about what makes a good story, have students write their own adventures and share them with the class.
- Have students find all the verbs used instead of “said” to identify quotations in O’Sullivan Stew. On the second page, they’ll find “screeched,” “hissed,” and “shot back.” The third page includes “called out,” “shouted,” “asked,” “added,” “shrieked,” and then at last one instance of “said.” Collect all the verbs in a pocket chart or on a sheet of chart paper, and put them up for students to use as inspiration when they write stories.
- Kate is very articulate and good at telling stories; you might say she has the gift of blarney. Tell students about the Blarney Stone. Then make a list of jobs that require eloquence. Teachers, lawyers, political candidates all need eloquence. Who else?
- O’Sullivan Stew has some points in common with traditional fairy tales, and some differences. Bring out your Venn diagram and compare.
- Kate, her two brothers, and her father make up the four members of the O’Sullivan family.Use a four-leaf clover cutout as a graphic organizer, labeling each leaf with one of the O’Sullivans and listing facts about the character, or details of the story Kate tells about that member of the family.
- Since it is Women’s History Month as well as coming up on St. Patrick’s Day, consider the saying “Well-behaved women rarely make history” as it relates to Kate, and then offer it as a writing prompt for your class.