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This one’s for the kids

Mary Claire O'Donnell | Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sunshine spreads across Notre Dame campus. Temperatures approach 50 degrees. This can only mean one thing: spring is arriving. And with the arrival of spring comes one of Notre Dame’s oldest traditions — ring by spring. Loving and devoted sons of Notre Dame will fill the Grotto, the lakes and the Lyons Arch with the shine of diamonds as they prepare to spend the rest of their lives with their beloved Notre Dame or Saint Mary’s sweethearts. For those couples who choose to have children, they will undoubtedly want to share with their kids the magic of the place which brought them together (and no, not just Domerfest). No words will ever adequately describe the aura and magic of Notre Dame, especially on a football Saturday, but for those who want to simultaneously help their children read and foster a love of all things Irish, Hammes Bookstore stocks many options. From coloring books to A-to-Z manuals, there’s something for kids of all ages and reading levels. Here are a few standouts.

“My First Notre Dame Words: GO IRISH” by Connie MacNamara

Although it’s unlikely that any children could master “leprechaun” as their first word, this book can help impress upon them important images from Notre Dame’s campus and history during memory development. And who knows, maybe they will manage “blue and gold” as first words.

“Notre Dame Fighting Irish 123: My First Counting Book” by Brad M. Epstein

There is no need for a Notre Dame education to wait until a student can read. Numbers are an integral part of future Domers’ lives, if only so they can be sure to go up for the correct number of push-ups after a touchdown. Start with one thunderous stadium, only to move on to the important numbers from Irish football history — the Four Horsemen and seven Heisman trophies. Soon enough, your child will be one of those thousands of loyal fans cheering for Notre Dame.

“Win One For The Gipper: America’s Favorite Football Hero” by Kathy-Jo Wardin

No self-respecting Notre Dame fan can get away with allowing their children to grow up ignorant of the legend of George Gipp — or Knute Rockne for that matter. This book chronicles the life of George Gipp as he traveled from Michigan to become one of the greatest college football players of all time. Wardin does not simply highlight the dominance of Irish football under Rockne, however. Through her focus on Gipp and his life, she also manages to insert morals for young readers to take away: self-sacrifice and perseverance.

The Gipper’s story has touched the hearts of all Notre Dame students and alumni, and “Win One” captures that spirit. From moving lines (“This is the day, and you are that team”) to bright, emotive illustrations, no child can walk away from this book without a profound admiration for Gipp and Rockne’s impassioned speech firmly planted in his or her mind.

“Learning the Legacy: The Next Generation’s Notre Dame Saturday” by Kristen Lefere Johnstone

No doubt you and your family will take at least one trip to Notre Dame for a football game and maybe a reunion with some college friends. Johnstone’s A-to-Z guide to football Saturdays can help introduce children to the wonder and chaos they will experience on campus during those magical days. Tradition constitutes a huge part of the lives of Domers past and present, and it is never too early to begin a child’s education.

From the lore of the green jerseys to the 1812 Overture, George Gipp to the Leprechaun, future Domers will seem like seasoned veterans when they arrive on campus for their first Notre Dame football game. Then they, too, will become part of the magic of game day because:

Y is for Youngsters here for their first game — like you.

And for your parents dreaming you’ll be Domers one day too.

“The Chicken Soup Game: 1979 Cotton Bowl, Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Houston Cougars” by Paul Kostolansky

This story not only details a historic game in Irish history, but also imbues in children an appreciation of hard work and dedication. After a foreword by Joe Unis, the 8-3 Irish take the field in Texas against a 9-2 Houston team. Freezing temperatures stunt the game and halftime finds the Irish down 20-12. Quarterback Joe Montana almost doesn’t make it out for the third quarter, but feels inspired after a bowl of chicken soup, as prescribed by the team doctor. Montana makes it back onto the field and cements his legacy as “The Comeback Kid.”

Kostolansky’s story puts a whole new spin on the old wive’s tale detailing the benefits of chicken soup. Montana and his team’s story teaches children the importance of never giving up and chasing dreams, important traits for Domers and non-Domers alike.

“Dream of the Echoes: The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame” by Brandon Crouch and Frank Corrigan

Theo and his trusty dog, Eddie J, narrate and guide this rhyming story of Theo’s dream of the October game that solidified the national fame of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame. After waking up in 1924, Theo and Eddie J find themselves at Notre Dame’s game listening to The Rock give his opening speech, encouraging and exciting his players in a frenzy of motion:

Believe in your talents. / Be pure and be true. / Let all your gifts shine, / Up, down, and through.

Theo’s description of the game and all its excitement can whip up a frenzy of Irish enthusiasm in any young reader. The dialogue is quick, the rhyming neat and the pictures attention-grabbing. Crouch and Corrigan, both Domers, drive home the beauty and excellence of Irish football, leaving all readers itching to take to the field and emulate their new heroes.