________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 12 . . . . February 6, 2009

cover Emma’s Treasure.

Gerald Mercer. Illustrated by Jillian Nicol. St. John’s, NL: Pennywell Books/Flanker Press, 2008.
32 pp., pbk., $11.95.
ISBN 978-1-897317-29-7.

Subject Headings:
Newfoundland and Labrador-History-Juvenile fiction.
Material culture-Newfoundland and Labrador-Juvenile fiction.
Fisheries-Newfoundland and Labrador-History-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Alison Mews.

** /4


“I found a book in the library about the Labrador fishery,” said Jeffrey. “People used to join a schooner crew to go fishing on the coast of Labrador. They packed handmade wooden trunks with things like knives, combs, net-mending equipment, hard biscuits, and warm clothes. The book had a picture of a trunk just like this one!”

This picture book celebrates Newfoundland culture in earlier times through the guise of a story where young Emma and her friends discover an old fishing trunk filled with her great-great-grandfather’s personal effects. The items inspire the friends to become ‘detectives’ and to find out more about the items at the local library and museum and by interviewing Emma’s Nanny. They then report back and tell each other what they’ve learned. Finally, they help Emma’s Nanny bring the wooden trunk from the shed to the house where Nanny dusts it and repacks the items more neatly. The last line in the book has Nanny telling Emma that they are “special family treasures from our past, and we have to take care of them.”

internal art

    This well-meaning book written by a principal of a local elementary school will find much use in Social Studies classes and during Heritage Fairs, but, unfortunately, the story does not stand on its own. While Emma may be thrilled by her find, it strains credulity to expect that the kids will voluntarily take on historical research and then make reports to each other. And even though Emma tries the concertina twice (with limited success the second time), she doesn’t express an interest in learning to play it. Simply bringing the trunk into the house and being admonished to care for the ‘family treasures’ is a rather flat ending. In fact, I turned the page expecting some sort of conclusion but discovered it had stopped there. The author models carefully descriptive language throughout, but adding exclamation marks to dialogue is not enough to engender a sense of excitement. As a gentle approach to introduce a history lesson, this book works quite well, but readers anticipating a juicy story about a treasure will be disappointed.

    This is a first book for illustrator Jillian Nicol who has a fine arts degree from Grenfell College in Corner Brook. Her coloured sketches include culturally appropriate items to further illustrate the historical aspects of the story, such as the items in the museum, and she uses sepia tones to indicate bygone days. Her full page, and often double-page, illustrations provide an attractive accompaniment to the story.

     Emma’s Treasure will have limited appeal but will provide a nostalgic glimpse of traditional Newfoundland outport life and may indeed, as the author hopes, help “readers to look around and find the value in possessions from the past.”

Recommended with reservations.

Allison Mews is the Coordinator of the Centre for Instructional Services in the Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, NL.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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