In honor of St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, we chose “Leprechaun Rain” as the featured story from our March/April 2015 issue. This is not a complex story. Emma lives with her parents and grandmother on a farm in Ireland. Some of the family’s sheep are missing in a storm, and Emma sets out to find them. When she does, everyone returns home safe and sound.
Even a simple story can be special, if the author fills it with little details that make the characters and places come alive. Author Hannah Ogden has done just that. Four of our five senses are engaged as Hannah describes what Emma sees, hears, touches, and smells in the first part of the story. The only light in Emma’s room comes from a flickering candle. Rain hammers on the roof. Thunder cracks overhead. The old farmhouse feels especially cold because of its gray stone walls. And when Emma’s dad comes in from the storm, his clothing smells of wet wool.
Hannah includes vivid details in the second part of her story as well, when Emma encounters a band of fairies and leprechauns in the forest. A green haze rises up from their bonfire. The leprechauns wear green, while the fairies wear every color in the rainbow. The fairies’ song sounds like light rain falling on grass. The air is filled with the sweet smell of lilacs and fresh grass, of freshly baked bread and springtime. The lost sheep are there too, and Katie comes up to nuzzle Emma’s arm. These details make us believe this part of the story, even though it is fantastical. Yes, Emma did fall and hit her head right before she saw the leprechauns and fairies, but of course they are real, right?
In addition to the details that engage our senses, Hannah has added another little detail that makes her story shine: a special understanding between Emma and her grandmother. They are together twice, once in the barn and once at the very end of the story. Both times, they seem to know what the other is thinking. In the barn, Grandmother Josephine assures Emma that the sheep will be all right in the storm. But when Emma looks into her grandmother’s eyes, she knows they tell a different story. At the end of the story, Emma keeps her encounter with the fairies and leprechauns a secret from her parents. One look at Grandmother Josephine, and Emma realizes her grandmother knows her secret. This bond between Emma and her grandmother brings a very human element to the story. Sometimes two people just click, they understand each other without speaking. The two fictional characters seem more like real people because of their deep connection.
And speaking of making things real, illustrator Isabella Ronchetti has picked up many of the little details of the story in her beautiful illustrations (one of them used as the cover for our new edition of The Stone Soup Book of Fantasy Stories). We see Emma's cold attic room with its stone walls, lit only by a candle, in the first illustration. Emma's anxious face, with her light freckles and wild black hair, fills the page. In the second illustration, we see the magical clearing in the forest, the ring of toadstools, the colorful fairies dancing around a bonfire, the gold coins on the ground. Even the characters in silhouette are detailed. We see the leprechaun's beard, hat, boots, and flute. We see Emma and Katie in lifelike detail too.
We applaud both author and artist for using detail to create great works of art. Bravo, Hannah and Isabella!