Nory Ryan's Song


Patricia Reilly Giff

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What's the hungriest you have ever been?

I don't mean the kind of hungry where you skipped lunch because you didn't like what your mom packed for you. I mean the kind of hungry where it's been months -- not weeks, but months -- since you've really felt full.

That's the kind of hunger Nory Ryan feels. She's living in Ireland in 1845, and times have been bad for years. Her family has to work very hard just to pay the rent on their cottage, to the English lord who owns the land. Lots of people have already left her town to go to America, where things are supposed to be so much better.

Yes, things have been bad for a long time. But there have been a few things to depend on: like potatoes, for instance. Even when there wasn't any other food to eat, they could always get a little nourishment from potatoes.

Except that now, they can't. The potatoes have been hit by a disease, a terrible blight. What do you do when you can no longer eat the one food that has kept your family from starving?

Discussion Questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. How do you feel about Maggie leaving the family to go to America? Is that the right thing to do? Why does she do it?
  2. Had you ever heard of the Irish potato famine before? What did you know about it? What did you learn through reading this book? What questions do you still have?
  3. How does the potato famine affect Nory's family? Do you think they will ever be reunited?
  4. Describe Anna. What kind of a person is she? Why is she willing to give her coin to Nory? Why is Nory unwilling to leave her?
  5. What skills will Nory bring with her to America? Is that possibly a gift from Anna to Nory?
  6. Is music important to Nory? How?
  7. How did you feel when the package Nory waited so long to get is stolen from her?
  8. To what lengths does Nory go to feed her family?
  9. What is Nory's most courageous moment? Why?
  10. Do you have hope for Nory's future? Why or why not?

If you liked this book try

  • Maggie's Door by Patricia Reilly Giff
  • Twist of Gold by Michael Morpurgo
  • Katie's Wish by Barbara Shook Hazen


Potato chips, chocolate eggs, seaweed snacks (from an Asian grocery)

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.