Esty’s Gold, by Mary Arrigan (fiction) – from Irish famine to Australia’s goldfields

Famine! How could your family survive?

That’s the life-changing question that 12-year-old Esther faces, as we go back to the Irish Potato Famine of 1845 on this World Wednesday.

As the blight makes potatoes rot when they’re dug up, poor Irish rental farmers and their families starve to death with their main food source gone. While having just one variety of potato planted all over Ireland contributed to the problem, the Famine was largely caused by the laws forbidding Irish Catholics from owning land.

When Esty’s father is killed trying to help starving farmers, she and her mother and granddad no longer have a home, and Esty must hire out as a servant. Emigration out of Ireland is offered – many travel to the United States, but Esty has carefully read the newspapers discarded by her employer and finds a way for her family to get to the goldfields of Australia.

The Mahers will face bandits, harsh weather, backbreaking toil, and outright prejudice as they dig for gold in Ballarat in this exciting story based on history.

If your local independent bookstore doesn’t have Etsy’s Gold, they’ll be glad to order it for you. Check your local library, too!

Book info: Esty’s Gold / Mary Arrigan. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2010. [author’s website] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Surely the potato blight won’t hurt Esty’s family, her papa being agent for the landowner, right? But the famine in 1840s Ireland cuts deep, and 12-year-old Esty finds herself hired out as a servant, with Mama and Grandpa sent from their big house to a tiny cottage.

As the large landowners continue evicting the tenants who can’t pay rent or feed their families because of the blight, more rebellion springs up. Esty reads the newspapers discarded by her employers and dreams of taking her family away from the famine, off to the goldfields of Australia.

Such a long journey, from Ireland to the other side of the world! And what perils along the way to the goldfields at Ballarat – thieves, wild weather and worse!

Can Esty really find a way to get her family all the way to Australia? Will they be tough enough to survive the pioneer conditions at the edge of the Outback? Can they find gold or will Ballarat be one more heartbreak for the Mahers?(One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

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