________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 15 . . . . March 20, 2009

cover Carried Away on Licorice Days.

Margaret J. McMaster.
Kingsville, ON: Mansbridge Dunn Publishers (contact the author at margmcmaster@yahoo.ca), 2008.
112 pp., pbk., $11.50.
ISBN 978-0-9810525-0-2.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Vikki VanSickle.

**** /4


Carving pumpkins is hard work. I was in charge of drawing the faces on the pumpkins and Grandma was in charge of cutting out all the shapes. The teeth were the trickiest because I like to do different types and sizes. Some teeth were small and pointy. Some were big and flat.

All the seeds were sloshed into a big bowl and rinsed off. Then Grandma sprinkled them with oil and salt and baked them in the oven until they were toasted. We took bowlfuls of them to the back porch.

It was autumn but not frigid yet. Sweater weather, Grandma called it. The paddocks stretched away from the barn to the edge of the woods and the leaves were just starting to turn rusty and red. Spitfire was in the closest pasture and perfectly content finding the last juicy blades of grass amongst the weeds. The hens had popped through the little doors that connected their nesting area in the barn to the fenced-in part of the coop and were pecking around in the dirt for grubs. I was watching Lucky mow the back lawn with his teeth, making sure he didn't stumble into the garden.

Owen is sent to live with his grandmother on her small country farm while his parents adjust to life with his new, demanding baby sister, Sophie. For the duration of his stay, Owen is excused from school, completing his studies in the morning and spending his afternoons taking riding lessons in preparation for a local barrel-racing competition. Owen is kept busy looking after his grandmother's ragtag group of lost animal souls, including a temperamental pony, a blind goat, two hens, and a dog.

     The gentle rhythm of their life is upset when Grandma wins the lottery, and everyone has opinions on what she should do with the money: take a trip, fix up the house, buy a new car. But there is someone in need upon whom Grandma is willing to risk her new-found fortune, and she's going to need Owen's help...

     This cozy novel is set in a small, rural world where everyone knows your business, people pick their own pumpkins right from the patch, and the corner store has salty, delicious old fashioned licorice. Although Owen misses his family, his anxieties are soothed by the warm, loving, and reassuring environment created by his grandmother. McMaster's ability to create a warm atmosphere, where life is simple but rich, is top-notch. This gentle novel brings to mind the works of James Herriot, full of memorable animal characters, cups of steaming hot cocoa, and frosty mornings out in the barn.

     Owen is a caring, sensitive boy. McMaster is adept at tapping into the emotions of her young narrator, separated from his parents, unsure of his new sister, and eager to help out around the farm. He is an appealing narrator to whom both boys and girls will relate. For all those horse fans out there, the novel includes great scenes of Owen's first few riding lessons.

     Carried Away on Licorice Days would be a charming bedtime read aloud for children as young as 6 or 7, but it can be equally enjoyed by independent readers aged 8-11. The chapters are short, and McMaster's fine writing is crisp, clear and very accessible.

     I very much enjoyed my time in McMaster's world. There are no sharp edges in this story. Carries Away on Licorice Days is as cozy as a cup of tea, and just as comforting.

Highly Recommended.

Vikki VanSickle has an MA in Children's Literature from the University of British Columbia. She is a writer and manager of the Flying Dragon Bookshop in Toronto.

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

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