Written by Patricia Polacco
Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2014, 48 pp.
This generational story focuses on a poor lace-making family in Ireland who decide they must journey to America. It is a familiar story of hardship and unjust working conditions that immigrants encounter in the U.S. as well as their expectation of riches. Polacco uses pencils and acetone markers for her naturalistic illustrations on full pages and across double spreads. The settings and the costumes of the characters are all of the period and place. Lace fills the end pages, along with Polacco’s note about her feelings concerning the lace and her family’s legacy.
Times were hard in all of Ireland so when the mill closes, many families are forced to leave all they know to seek work elsewhere. When passage to America becomes available, Fiona and her family travel to Chicago. They find work in domestic service to pay back their passage, and at night Fiona turns tangles of thread into a fine, glorious lace. Not long after they leave Ireland for Chicago, the chaos of the Great Chicago fire that starts near their tenement separates Fiona and her sister Annie from their parents. Fiona helps her parents find them by cutting up her own precious lace to leave a trail similar to the one her mother created in Ireland as a trail from the mill where she worked as a young woman to her home so her eventual husband could be introduced properly introduced to her father.
Books that could be used in a text set with Fiona’s Lace include My Name is Sangoel (Karen Lynn Williams, 2009), The Name Jar (Yangsook Choi, 2003), and Migrant (Maxine Trottier, 2011), all of which address movement from one place to another along with the situations young people go through to acclimate to their new surroundings.
Patricia Polacco grew up in California and Michigan, spending her school years in Oakland, California and summers in Michigan. She describes her family members as marvelous storytellers. She is a museum consultant on the restoration of icons, and a participant in many citizen exchange programs for writers and illustrators. She is also deeply involved in urban projects in the U.S. that promote the peaceful resolution of conflict and encourage art and literacy programs. More information about Polacco can be found on her website.
Susan Osiago, Tucson Unified School District, Tucson, AZ