________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 10 . . . . January 21, 2005


Joe Howe to the Rescue.

Michael Bawtree. Illustrated by David Preston Smith.
Halifax, NS: Nimbus, 2004.
142 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 1-55109-495-9.

Subject Headings:
Howe, Joseph, 1804-1873-Juvenile fiction.
Halifax (N.S.)-History-19th century-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Ian Stewart.

** /4


Jack was small for his age, with brown hair and startling grey eyes. He was thin and wiry, but had strong hands and moved with quick darting steps. People used to say that he stood out in a crowd in spite of his size, and that he was "goin' some-wheres." He was known at Mrs. Pringle's as a boy who would always stick up for the small ones. He hated to see bullies throwing their weight about in the little playground behind the school, and often rushed into protect them. He had a temper too, and even the bigger boys were just a little bit afraid of him.

This historical novel is set in 1834 Halifax, Nova Scotia, and tells the tale of a young boy and his adventures with Joseph Howe, the crusading journalist who would eventually become the province's Premier and a federal cabinet minister after Canadian confederation. It seemed a bit of good fortune when young Jack Dance was befriended by the local newspaper editor, Joseph Howe, and given a job at the Novascotian. However, like his new friend and mentor, Jack had a nose for sniffing out scandal and soon became the sworn enemy of highly placed local officials and their smuggler friends. His non-stop adventures started out small, but within days he is running for his life and trying to keep Howe out of jail. Much of the action centers on Howe's famous 1835 trial. He had published a letter accusing the local magistrates of corruption, and they charged him with seditious libel. A guilty verdict would send the journalist to prison for many years.

     The book's shortcoming soon becomes annoyingly evident. Michael Bawtree is only interested in mythologizing Howe. He is unsullied, a man without fear and so pure as to be totally unbelievable. It would have been much more interesting to have given Howe at least a token amount of self-doubt, perhaps a small fault, and to have portrayed the local officials as something less then completely vile. Young readers deserve the chance to see some level of complexity in human social and political relationships.

Recommended with Reservations.

A regular contributor to CM, Ian Stewart teaches at David Livingstone School in Winnipeg, MB, and reviews books on Canadian history and politics for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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

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