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Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850

Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850

3.6 5
by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Graeme Malcolm (Read by)

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In 1845, a disaster struck Ireland. Overnight, a mysterious blight attacked the potato crops, turning the potatoes black and destroying the only real food of nearly six million people.

Over the next five years, the blight attacked again and again. These years are known today as the Great Irish Famine, a time when one million people died from starvation and


In 1845, a disaster struck Ireland. Overnight, a mysterious blight attacked the potato crops, turning the potatoes black and destroying the only real food of nearly six million people.

Over the next five years, the blight attacked again and again. These years are known today as the Great Irish Famine, a time when one million people died from starvation and disease and two million more fled their homeland.

Black Potatoes is the compelling story of men, women, and children who defied landlords and searched empty fields for scraps of harvested vegetables and edible weeds to eat, who walked several miles each day to hard-labor jobs for meager wages and to reach soup kitchens, and who committed crimes just to be sent to jail, where they were assured of a meal. It’s the story of children and adults who suffered from starvation, disease, and the loss of family and friends, as well as those who died. Black Potatoes is the story of the heroes among the Irish people and how they held on to hope.

Editorial Reviews

It is estimated that in the 1840s, each person in Ireland ate between 7 and 15 pounds of potatoes a day, and many animals ate potatoes as well. But when a fungus attacked the fields, a crisis quickly developed. The Great Famine led to even further resentment against the governing English after the death of a million from starvation and disease and the scattering of some two million more, and it strengthened the determination of the Irish to overcome such adversity and survive as a people. Vivid stories were collected from descendants of the famine-stricken poor, and powerful pen-and-ink sketches from contemporary newspapers make clear the dire situation of those who were evicted and the many who were starving. Ethnic and religious prejudices are presented realistically, and there are references to the present crisis in many societies and what the appropriate response should be today when human beings lack access to food. A powerful and important book. KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Houghton Mifflin, 184p. illus. map. bibliog. index., Ages 12 to adult.
—Maureen Griffin
From the Publisher

"Bartoletti humanizes the big events by bringing the readers up close to the lives of ordinary people." Booklist, ALA, Starred Review

“Bartoletti incorporates period pen-and-ink sketches and poetry laying bare the fragility, injustice, and stratification of Irish peasant society. . . . Fascinating historical reading.” —School Library Journal, starred review School Library Journal, Starred

School Library Journal - Audio
Gr 6 Up—In the 1800s, potatoes were the staple food and source of income for the Irish. When blight struck the crop in 1845, they faced not only economic deprivation, but also starvation. Laborers sold their possessions for a few meals. Families unable to obtain enough food for their families had to choose who would eat, who would enter the workhouse, and who had to scrape by as best they could. Relief efforts by the English were meager and insufficient, particularly as the famine continued in Ireland for five years. More than one million people died in a five year span. Another two million emigrated to America, Canada, Australia, and other countries, extending the economic and political impact of the Irish potato famine. Bartoletti discusses both the political climate and historical events in her book (Houghton Mifflin, 2001), and intertwines them with personal accounts of individuals who lived through this time period. Traditional poetry and prose are woven throughout this volume, brought to life by narrator Graeme Malcolm, whose Irish lilt adds authenticity to the recording. A fine addition to middle and high school libraries.—Amanda Rollins, Northwest Village School, Plainville, CT

Product Details

Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 5.40(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
9 - 11 Years

Meet the Author

Susan Campbell Bartoletti is the award-winning author of several books for young readers, including Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845–1850, winner of the Robert F. Sibert Medal. She lives in Moscow, Pennsylvania.

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Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a high school  student who did a research project on the Potato Famine. Although I am not a big fan of non-fiction books, I really enjoyed reading Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine because it gave thoughtful insight on how the Irish people suffered from the British government's neglect from 1845-1850. It was intriguing to see how Bartoletti was able to incorporate stories passed down to the descendants of those who had lived through the Irish Potato Famine. Although it would have been helpful to have been given the effect it had on those of the upper class, it gave very adequate perspectives of those in the poverty-stricken areas of Ireland. Reading this book for hours on end made me feel as if I had been living through the famine myself, that is, excluding the feeling of starvation. Being a very descriptive book, the majority of it was quite sad, but some disturbing details included those who had been buried alive. One of the most touching parts was reading about the half-naked women who had suffered through the cold  attempting to pick leftover turnips for their starving children who devoured them raw. Bartoletti sufficiently states that this famine could have been prevented because as Ireland continued to export goods, their own people were dying of starvation by the millions. In all, I highly recommend Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine to those studying world history because it is very informative and easy to understand.
ACRain More than 1 year ago
An eye opening history lesson for a less than history buff. The text takes you through the rough and trasgic history of the Irish people. The focus of the book is around the potato famine that so greatly affected that people for generations to come. A bit close to home for those like me whom are desindent of those whom came to america to escape the famine in Ireland. The tale althoguht a tragic one is a way to get young readers invovled in history and events that happen across the sea. While not the most cheerful of books it offers the telling of a bitter truth that not all history is a pleasent one. This book would do well in both a literature and history classroom setting eigther opening the doors for a irish literature lesson or a glance into foreign history. It is well worth the read as both informative and easy reading, allowing those not so easily interested in history to get a good sample.
pinkystar06 More than 1 year ago
This book is a great informative story for children to understand what happened in Ireland during the years of 1845-1850. I felt the book gave insight to what the Irish people had to go through and the hardship of those times.
MissPrint More than 1 year ago
In 1845 Ireland relied most heavily on one crop. Farmers cultivated grains, green vegetables and a variety of root vegetables. But those were often crops owed to wealthy British landlords for rent money if not owned outright. Those landlords would ship the harvested food to England at a tidy profit. Among all of this export, potatoes were truly an Irish tuber. It was potatoes that saw poor laborers through the long winter months after everything else was sold. Boiled, roasted, mashed with garlic and butter. Potatoes formed every meal for families across Ireland. There are few other vegetables as easy to grow that are as filling and nutritious as a potato. The only real problem was that potatoes could not last from season to season. By May the potato stores were gone and the Hungry Months began; poor farmers and their families had to look for food elsewhere sometimes scavenging, sometimes begging. It was not an ideal way of life, but it worked. Until 1845 when a strange blight struck the potatoes near harvest. Once dug up, the potatoes turned black for no apparent reason. Were the little people aiming to take the potatoes for themselves? Were the farmers being punished for wasting the glut of potatoes from the year before? In 1845 no one knew what devilry was work. The only certainty for most farmers was that the Hungry Months were going to last much longer than usual, but even then no one knew the Hungry Months would last five years. No one knew the Great Irish Famine would kill one million people from starvation and disease while driving another two million to emigrate. Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850 (2001) by Susan Campbell Bartoletti was the 2002 winner of the Sibert Medal as, according the ALA, "the most distinguished informational book published in English during the preceding year" (think Newbery awards but only open to non-fiction books). Happily, in this case distinguished does not mean stodgy or dense. Bartoletti's writing is straightforward and absorbing while conveying a wealth of information. Black Potatoes touches upon the obvious: the importance of the potato to Ireland, what caused the potatoes to turn black (a disgusting fungus that flourished in an unusually rainy planting season), and what happened when the potatoes failed. While looking at these broad historical strokes, Bartoletti introduces readers to Irish history and politics (circa 1845) with England and the United Kingdom while also describing the motivations that led so many to leave Ireland (and the conditions they faced on the long journey and at their final destinations). A variety of primary source research lends an informal tone Black Potatoes and provides personal accounts of a variety of Irish men and women who experienced the famine first hand. Bartoletti brings a bleak period of history to life with aplomb and just the right amount of humor and compassion. Illustrations from period newspapers like the one seen on the cover lend even more authenticity to an already rich text. An eye opener for anyone unfamiliar with the period and a must read for history buffs. Possible Pairings: From Ellis Island to JFK by Nancy Foner, New York: A Short History by George J. Lankevich