Achieving Hero Status: A Review of ‘The Irish Cinderlad’

“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” – C.S. Lewis

Reading Level:

Grades 2-3 [according to common core]

Grade   3.5  [according to Scholastic – reflects the grade level at which a student reading on grade could read the book independently]

Interest Level: K – 2

Review and Comments:

The Irish Cinderlad by Shirley Climo is a story that takes place in ages past in Ireland.  It is a familiar tale based on Doublas Hyde’s “The Bracket Bull” and on Sara Cone Bryant’s “Billy Beg and His Bull.” It also brings to mind the very familiar fairy tale, Cinderella.

Becan, “Little One,” was a tiny boy born to devoted parents.  His mother lovingly cared for him and he grew stronger.  It was interesting to see that even though he remained a small boy his feet grew longer and longer.  Sadly, when Becan was 13 years old his mother died.  His father eventually married a woman who had three daughters.  Becan’s new family was not the comfort his father sought for him.  The stepsisters constantly belittled him with the nickname “Little Bigfoot” and his stepmother said he was a “good for nothing boy.”  To get him out of their daily lives, Becan was sent to the fields every day to tend his father’s three cows, and he gladly accepted this chore that distanced him from his new family.

It was while he tended cows that he confronted several intriguing and definitely dangerous situations that eventually lead him to a wonderful outcome. He made friends with a bull he very much feared, he faced a giant who threatened to eat him, and he saved Princess Finola from a treacherous dragon.  Each encounter prepared him for the next challenge.  His friend the bull gave him his tail to use in extreme danger, and the giant had to forfeit his very large and perfectly fitting boots.  Using the tail a second time he completely ended the threat of the dragon.  Becan bravely saved the princess.

Princess Finola wanted to meet Becan after he saved her life to express her gratitude.  Unfortunately, Becan heard his three stepsisters calling out their familiar insults just as the princess reached up and touched his boot. In a flash, he galloped away leaving the princess standing there holding his boot.  Princess Finola was one determined princess and the boot instantly became the means to find him.

It took a year and many men trying on that very large boot before Becan was asked to try it on. Of course it fit him perfectly, and he was even able to produce the other boot. He then returned to the castle where he became Prince Becan.  It was a happily ever after finale!

Children who are familiar with a variety of fairy tales will immediately see that the beginning and ending of this story are similar to Cinderella.  The giant and dragon that challenge Becan may also bring to mind Jack in the Beanstalk and Sleeping Beauty.  Overall The Irish Cinderlad is an exciting story, and Becan is a likable and sympathetic hero who displays positive attributes. He faces difficulties yet continues to be a good friend, works hard, and does not ignore what needs to be done. Young readers will be eager to read how he perseveres through each new challenge.

The illustrations are large and colorful and compliment the story very well. It’s wonderful to see that the giant and dragon are not evil looking villains for this level of readers.

Possible Concerns:

There are no concerns with this book.  [Note: Some sensitive children may be upset by the death of the bull, the giant’s “appetite”, and the possible sacrifice of Princess Finola.]

 Further Discussion:

Locate Ireland on a world map.

  • Identify continent, hemisphere, and surrounding water. Locate Kinsale.

Discuss the common elements of a fairy tale. These elements fit the story perfectly.

  1. A fairy tale begins with “Once upon a time…”
  2. Fairy tales happen in the long ago.
  3. Fairy Tales have fantasy and make believe in them.
  4. Fairy Tales have clearly defined good characters vs. evil characters.
  5. Royalty is usually present in a fairy tale, a beautiful princess/handsome prince.
  6. There may be magic with giants, elves, talking animals, witches or fairies.
  7. Fairy tales have a problem that needs to be solved.
  8. It often takes three tries to solve the problem.
  9. Fairy tales have happy endings – “they all lived happily ever after.”
  10. Fairy tales usually teach a lesson or have a theme.

This story is perfect for comparing fairy tales – Cinderella and The Cinderlad.

  • A Venn diagram is the logical tool to use when comparing literature. [Optional idea:  Use two hoola hoops as the intersecting circles. Write ideas on strips of paper and tape them inside the hoops.]
  • Two charts, one for each story, could be used to show: characters, setting, chores, stepsisters and stepmothers, shoes, prince/princess, etc. Draw simple pictures of these ideas and label them.

Make sequence cards for the important events in Becan’s life.

  • Make cards with pictures and simple phrases. [examples: child with mother, stepmother and step sisters, watching cows, bull, giant, princess, dragon, boot, princess with Becan]
  • Put the cards in correct story sequence.

Read the poem “In Search of Cinderella” by Shel Silverstein.

Catholic Resources:

The stepsisters treat Becan unkindly and deliberately use words to hurt him.  This is a good example to use to address bullying.  It is important for children to know that respecting others as true children of God  is a “reality to be lived” and no one has the right to destroy or harm another human’s life.

  • In their 1983 document, The Challenge of Peace, the American bishops wrote:

“At the center of all Catholic social teaching are the transcendence of God and the dignity of the human person. The human person is the clearest reflection of God’s presence in the world; all of the Church’s work in pursuit of both justice and peace is designed to protect and promote the dignity of every person. For each person not only reflects God, but is the expression of God’s creative work and the meaning of Christ’s redemptive ministry.”

CCC 2258 “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is the sole end.  God along is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end; no on ecan under any circumstances claim for himself the right directily to destroy an innocent being.”    

Becan faced many difficult and dangerous challenges in his life that required courage.  This is a beautiful prayer for protection against evil.

Living Lord,
I am yours.
I wear the helmet of salvation and hope.
I carry the shield of faith and your word.
I hold the sword of the spirit.
I buckle the belt of truth around my waist.
I put on the breastplate of righteousness
And I walk with the boots of readiness and peace.

I am yours.

Read more:

Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. Check out his story on Saints’ Stories for all Ages.

  • Patrick’s poem of faith and trust in God:

The Breastplate

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left.

Saint Margaret of Cortona is the patron saint of stepchildren.  Her feast day is February 22.