It doesn't need to be St. Patrick's Day in order to read Irish folktales to your kids! As part of my world folktale picture book series, this book list of Celtic mythology, Irish legends and folk lore will introduce your children to the legends of that fair green isle.
You might be thinking, "should we really lump Celtic myths with Irish tales?" Um, probably not but I'm doing it anyway. March, the month of St. Patrick's day, is also Irish-American Heritage Month so you have plenty of reason to read these picture book Irish folk tales well after the 17th. On this book list you will find two categories. First, I curated a selection of single tale picture books of fairy tales and folktales. Second, I rounded up my favorite anthologies of Irish legends, stories and miscellanea. (Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)
Irish Folktales and Celtic Fairy Tale Picture Books
Too Many Fairies: A Celtic Tale. My 4 year old is loving this tale from master storyteller, Margaret Read MacDonald. When a little old lady grumbles over her chores a group of fairies come to relieve her, but they do not turn out to be as much help as they promise! The narrative contains some lovely repetitive devices that encourage listeners to interact with the story and I love that the moral of the tale is don't complain about your housework!
Fiona's Luck by Teresa Bateman. Fiona is a clever, witty heroine who makes her own luck instead of relying on magic. She outsmarts the Leprechaun King who has locked all the luck in Ireland away in a chest. I particularly like the illustrations.
O'Sullivan Stew by Hudson Talbott. Kate's village has been put under a curse by the witch of Crookhaven! Not to worry, this feisty, imaginative and clever Irish heroine manages to rescues them all with her smart, surprising and very humorous storytelling skills.
Tim O'Toole and the Wee Folk. Folklorist Gerald McDermott may be best known for his Anansi the Spider tale, but he's also written this entertaining European folktale. Poor Tim is shunned by his neighbors but when he gets a magic gift he lets the McGoons trick him out of it. Fortunately, there is a group of leprechauns to help him change his fortune.
The Irish Cinderlad by Shirley Climo. In this Irish folktale version of Cinderella, an Irish lad with enormous feet runs away from his step family in order to slay dragons, giants and magical bulls! But after he rescues a princess he leaves behind one of his huge boots. Will the princess ever find him? Kids familiar with the classic Cinderella tale will love this Irish fairy tale.
Fin M'Coul: The Giant of Knockmany Hill. Tomie dePaola has several wonderful picture books that draw upon Irish legends and folklore such as Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato, but I will highlight only one here and you can get the rest from your library to round out your St. Patrick's Day book collection! When Fin the giant hears the fiercest giant in all the land is coming to fight him, he runs to his wife who concocts a clever plan. A tale full of gigantic humor.
I see the world through Irish eyes, and they are smiling. --Denise Morrison
Irish Legends and Celtic Myth Anthologies
Tales from Old Ireland (with CD) by Malachy Doyle. I looked at a number of story collections for this list, but many of them had illustrations which were too scary for my kids. That was not the case with this Barefoot Books publication which also comes with 2 CDs. This is the second year we have checked it out from the library and we were sad again that one disc was missing because the boys loved listening to the tales. If you have an Audible subscription you can listen to the stories for free (!), if not, you can sign up for the Audible trial and listen for free.
Sally Go Round The Stars: Favourite Rhymes from an Irish Childhood by Claire Ranson & Sarah Webb. For younger kids, I really love the illustrations in this book of Irish nursery rhymes. Most of the selections are familiar even to non-Irish children but others, like the one with a cat named Pangur Bán will be new.
Tales from Celtic Lands by Caitlin Matthews. A collection of Celtic mythology, not only from Ireland, but also from Scotland, Wales and Brittany, and another good choice if you want to avoid scarey illustrations. It also comes with 2 CDs. I love collections which come with audio files because generally my kids want me to read these thick books straight through!
A Pot o' Gold: A Treasury of Irish Stories, Poetry, Folklore, and (of Course) Blarney by Kathleen Krull. I like that this Irish folktales anthology contains not just stories, but poems, historical facts, recipes, Irish blessings, etc. etc. I could go on. It's also heavily illustrated.
The Happy Prince and Other Stories. Did you know Irish playwright Oscar Wilde also wrote tales for children? Younger children will certainly not understand much of the social commentary and satire in these stories and protective parents may wish to delay reading them until their children are older but whatever you decide, the stories will get conversations started, and that is always a good thing. Project Gutenberg has several versions with illustrations available for free so you can preview it and decide if they are right for you.
Leprechauns and Irish Folklore. Ah, The Magic Tree House books: some people love them some people hate them. I have mixed feelings, but I tend to appreciate the non-fiction companion guides because my then-8 year old who usually did not read anything that might fall under the "social studies" umbrella liked to read these books. That's a pretty good recommendation in my book. (pun!)
If you are looking for St. Patrick's Day activities to go along with your reading, I recommend the ideas over at No Time for Flash Cards!
More world folktales for you to explore:
- Scottish folklore
- Folk tales from India
- Chinese folk tales
- Japanese folk tales
- Classic European fairy tales