In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I’m interrupting my series of Easter book reviews to introduce you to Saint Patrick and the Snakes by Patricia Egan.

The book was a gift from my youngest child’s godparents. My child was three years old when her godparents went to Ireland and came back with this book. And today, seventeen years later, this book is still one of her favorites.

You might wonder why a young adult would be so fond of a picture book. It’s more than the fact that the book was a gift from her beloved godparents. My child has other books that were gifts from them. Enjoyable books. Fun books. Interesting books. But it’s only this book about which she has said, “I will keep it forever, and never part with it.”

The book is funny. And while there are parts that are funny for children, a great deal of the humor is for the adults who might read the book. The black-and-green illustration are richly detailed, with more to see when you read the book again. So, as my child grew up, the book grew up, too.

The snakes in the book are appealing. They are most certainly not real snakes. If you’ve got a child who wants biologically accurate snakes, this would not be the book for that child. These snakes are slimy and they spit poison. They wear hats and dark glasses. They smoke and drink, gamble and steal. When the Irish chieftains put up notices offering rewards for killing snakes, “the snakes either tore down the notices, or wrote rude remarks on them like, SNAKES RULE OK and LOVE AND HISSES and FANGS FOR THE WARNING.”

So the Druids are called on to get rid of the snakes. Their approach involves magic spells, yes – but it also involves workshops and seminars complete with name tags and clipboards. The spell they devise uses such things as toads and toadstools, but it also includes one naughty word (hell). In the context of the story, the word isn’t a problem, but it’s unexpected in a children’s book. I suspect that an American editor or publisher wouldn’t have allowed it, but Saint Patrick and the Snakes was published in Ireland.

Of course, after the Druids fail in their attempt to send the snakes to hell, St. Patrick himself is finally persuaded to intervene. He banishes all the snakes except one. A corncrake warns him that the snake that’s left is “the liardiest creature in Ireland.” And St. Patrick really doesn’t want to go back to Antrim, anyway. So how does St. Patrick deal with this last snake? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Read More

The Lenten Feast of St. Patrick: St. Patrick’s Day always falls during Great Lent. So how do the Irish manage a feast day in the middle of the Fast?

St. Brigid’s Cloak and Blueberry Jam: St. Brigid was an Irish saint, a friend of St. Patrick and a friend of the poor. This is my favorite story about her.

Easter picture books for a child’s Lenten journey: Sharing Easter picture books with young children throughout Lent can help them prepare for Pascha. Here are books and conversation-starters that will begin to direct your child’s heart and mind towards the Resurrection.

Charlotte Riggle, author of Catherine's Pascha and The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
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