cover image Ballad of Biddy Early

Ballad of Biddy Early

Nancy Willard. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $13.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-394-88414-1

This glorious collection of poems, songs, limericks and ballads celebrates the memory of Biddy Early, a 19th-century Irish peasant woman blessed with the power of healing. In a mere 15 selections, Willard's words weave an indelible portrait any biographer would be proud to claim. The legendary ``wise woman of Clare'' is heard about from humans and animals alike: in ``A Noisy Story of Honor and Glory,'' Honor the fox confides to Glory the lark, ``I hear Biddy's house is as broad as an ark . . . and even the crickets are watered and fed.'' A gypsy woman tells of consulting Biddy to heal a lame pony in ``How the Queen of the Gypsies Met Trouble-And-Pain''; the curse invoked herein is positively blood-curdling. In ``Her Friends Remember Biddy Early,'' there are several grim tasks associated with the grand lady's passing; it is agreed that Biddy's chronicler will be the seven-toed cat. These vignettes come in all sizes as well: in the long narrative verse ``How Biddy Hid Mick the Moonlighter's Sleep in Her Sleeve,'' Biddy gives aid to an admitted murderer, while ``The Cat's Second Song'' tells in five lines of a bear, ridden by Biddy, that ``ate candles and hay / till it twinkled away / down a tunnel of emerald air.'' Moser's paintings possess a haunting, brooding quality that further illuminates this unique character's mystique. By turns comic, tragic, irreverent, this heartfelt story--for it is a story, despite its fragmented, poetic form--cannot fail to impress and move. Ages 10-up. (Sept.)