Tomie de Paola’s favorite holiday may indeed be Christmas, but he does justice to the Irish and St. Patrick’s Day too, ’tis true in Jamie O’Rourke and the Pooka. His Irish grandfather, Thomas Lawrence Downey, was, according to Tomie, a great storyteller on whose knee he heard many an Irish tale and we all know genes will out.
In this story we meet, of course, Jamie O’Rourke, the laziest man in Ireland, and the arrival of a pooka, animal spirits of Irish lore who live solitary lives—sounds lonely, right?
Did you ever see the movie Harvey with Jimmy Stewart? It’s touching, funny, and oddly addresses in a comical way the line between what’s real and unreal. Here, a pooka had top billing alongside Jimmy. Described as a rabbit and over six feet tall, he is visible only to Elwood P. Dowd, played by Stewart. In Tomie’s tale, Jamie O’Rourke’s wife, Eileen, off to visit a sister, Kathleen, and a new babe, leaves a larder well stocked, a tidy house, and Jamie asleep in mid-afternoon! Naught to do for Jamie, right? Wait.
His friends Patrick, Michael, and Seamus (good Irish names all) interrupt his good intent with cider tasting and lots of partaking of Eileen’s tasty cooking. Cleanup? Surely there is a whale of a mess with these four about. Lazy and messy—what a combo!
Glory be and Katy bar the door, what’s that tappin’ on the door in the middle of the night? A pooka, sure enough, and a neatnik to boot. Clean he must till the end of time to atone for the laziness of his servant days.
A slow Irish grin spreads o’er Jamie’s gob. But Jamie, beware, all that glitters is not green—er, gold. For this is one spirit who may turn a good deed into a “pooka party” for himself, and no mistake.
Tomie’s use of distinctive, lilting Irish speech patterns give the story an authentic flavor and jaunty tone, and as for Jamie we almost begin to feel a wee bit of the teary eye for him—but not quite.
After all, it’s the pooka who had the wash up!
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