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O'Sullivan Stew -- A Delicious Concoction!

Young readers will love strong, confident, smart Kate O'Sullivan. When the chips are down, Kate saves the lives of her family members by stirring up a handful of outrageous tales, each one more far-fetched than the last. O'Sullivan Stew -- from award-winning author and artist Hudson Talbot -- offers surprise after surprise! Included: Cross-curriculum activity ideas for extending this superb read-aloud!

O'Sullivan Book Cover Hudson Talbot, author of We're Back: A Dinosaur's Story and Amazon Diary, has done it again! This time he's settled along the zigzagging coast of Ireland, where he stirs up tales of a cranky old witch, an angry sea serpent, and a mean giant. Put it all together and you have the perfect recipe for a concoction that is sure to delight -- (G. P. Putnam's Sons)!

When the royal tax collectors lay claim to the red-headed horse of Crookhaven's resident witch, Kate jumps to her aid. But she's the only one! The townspeople aren't willing to lend a hand for someone who's "not one of us." The lack of neighborly support sends the witch into one of her famous snits. She exacts revenge in very un-neighborly ways:


"The fishnets came up empty. The cows stopped giving milk. Gardens died. Trees fell on houses with remarkable accuracy. And the rain was heavier than usual. Desperate townsfolk went to the witch to beg for mercy but were met by a sign on her gate DON'T BOTHER -- I'm not 'one of us.'"

Just as a starving Kate is about to boil up her right shoe for dinner, an idea comes to her. She fetches her brothers and father and shares a plan to steal back the witch's horse from the king -- an improbable plan for such an inept bunch. (As inevitable as the failure is, the cause of it is quite a humorous surprise!) Soon the O'Sullivan clan stands before the king, in a bit of a stew!

"Do you even realize the trouble you're in? Have you ever been in a worse spot in your life?" the angry king asks Seamus O'Sullivan, the head of the clan.

Quick-thinking Kate steps in to rescue her stammering father: "I have," she says.

And so Kate begins to tell a series of stories -- each a taller tale than the one before -- explaining how one after another of the O'Sullivans has been "in a worse spot." At the completion of each of Kate's tales, the king is forced to see her point. Indeed, it seems each member of the family has been in a worse spot than they are in right then! But as Kate completes her last tale -- which finds her father rescuing a young mother, her baby, and himself from a giant in a most creative way -- the king must face the fact that Kate is pulling his leg.


"The king looked glum. 'I'd like to agree,' he said slowly, 'if only I could. But you've pushed me too far with this tale about your father. I am tempted to reward you simply for your vivid imagination. But really, Miss O'Sullivan, who in the world would ever believe such a far-fetched story about him?'"

That question sets up one of the biggest surprises in this full-of-surprises tale! But it isn't the last surprise! Not by any means!



Young readers will love O'Sullivan Stew. But, more than that, creative teachers will love it for the rich extension activities it will generate.

  • The tales Kate makes up on the spot could serve as splendid writing models! Teachers might challenge their student-writers to create tall tales of their own about a time when they were "in a worse spot" than the O'Sullivan's are in.


  • Challenge students to find in an atlas the location of the real-life village of Crookhaven. (Yes, it does exist!)


  • Read aloud other stories by Hudson Talbot, including Amazon Diary and We're Back: A Dinosaur's Story. (Or you might show Steven Spielberg's video/movie version of We're Back: A Dinosaur's Story during a couple rainy-day recesses.) Discuss the similarities and differences in these stories from a single author.


  • An audio cassette version of O'Sullivan Stew is available from Children's Book-of-the-Month Club. You might share this audio story -- with voices by five very talented Irish actors -- with your students. Then challenge students to work in teams to create their own scripts and audio retellings of their favorite literary tall tales.


Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1999 Education World



Originally published 03/22/1999
Last updated 02/17/2015