Monday, March 09, 2009

Irish Magic: Shannon and the World's Tallest Leprechaun by Sean Callahan

Shannon feels like Cinderella. She loves stepdancing and wants to compete in the St. Patrick's Day Irish Dance Contest, but all the other girls seem to have expensive wigs and costumes that put her scuffed old shoes and homemade green dress to shame.

Then, when the heel comes right off her worn-out shoe, Shannon despairs, knowing her parents can't afford new dancing clogs. Thankfully she remembers an old Irish trick for summoning a leprechaun to do her bidding--count backwards in Gaelic:

"A hecht, a seacht, a se, a cuig, a ceathair, a tri, a do, a haon...." Shannon recites, eyes closed.

And when she opens her eyes, there indeed is a leprechaun. At least, he's bearded and wearing green, but...

"You must be six feet tall," Shannon blurted.

"If ye must know," the man said, frowning, "I am five eleven. I am Liam, the world's tallest leprechaun."

"Are you sure you're a leprechaun?" Shannon asked.

"Yes, yes, yes. I get that all the time. I'm obliged to grant you three wishes, one each day for three days

Shannon reels off her wish list--a curly wig, a Irish-made dress, and, of course, shiny new dancing shoes. But Liam is far from giving up his three wishes so easily.

"A wig? A dress?" the leprechaun scoffed. I'm NOT your fairy godmother!!"

"What do those things have to do with dancing? But a shoe--you do need that!"

Liam whips out his cobbler's tools and teaches Shannon how to nail the heel back securely on her old shoe herself. But when Shannon makes a wish to be a great stepdancer, good enough to win the contest, Liam is a down-to-earth wish granter.

"Did you know the best way to get better is to teach someone else how to do it?" he asks.

So Shannon spends the rest of the afternoon teaching him a treble jig, until Liam finally does a creditable step and Shannon is dancing her best. That accomplished, Shannon has another query for Liam.

"Do you have a pot of gold buried at the end of the rainbow?"

"Aye, it's true," said Liam. "Did you Google me or something?"

Liam promises Shannon she'll find out more about the gold on St. Patrick's Day. But when the big day dawns, rain is just beginning to drizzle, and Shannon's spirits droop along with her pincurls as she watches the other dancers sparkle in their professional costumes. Still, when she comes forward for her solo, she sees her parents smiling and Liam giving her a bit of a wink, and suddenly all that matters is the joy of the dance. Shannon twirls and bounces and is jig-perfect, thanks to all her practice with her leprechaun.

And as she dances, the drizzling rain ends and the sun bursts out, revealing a beautiful rainbow just beyond the watching crowd. The audience cheers for Shannon, and the judge places a shiny medal around her neck--her own leprechaun's gold, after all.

Sean Callahan's Shannon and the World's Tallest Leprechaun (Albert Whitman, 2008) is an old-fashioned bootstrapping story of a girl who wins out through her own hard work and talent, aided by an up-to-the-minute leprechaun with a bit of an attitude.

Other tried-and-true leprechaun tales include Stephen Krensky's Too Many Leprechauns: Or How That Pot o' Gold Got to the End of the Rainbow and Caldecott winner Gerald McDermott's Tim O'Toole and the Wee Folk (Picture Puffins).

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