________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 15 . . . .April 1, 2005


Making It Home: The Story of Catharine Parr Traill. (Stories of Canada).

Lynn Westerhout. Illustrated by Liz Milkau.
Toronto, ON: Napoleon Publishing, 2004.
86 pp., cloth, $18.95.
ISBN 0-929141-90-3.

Subject Headings:
Traill, Catharine Parr, 1802-1899-Juvenile literature.
Frontier and pioneer life-Ontario-Juvenile literature.
Women authors, Canadian (English)-19th century-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Andrea Szilagyi.

*** /4



Catharine Parr Trail loved to write. She wrote stories in secret as a child, knowing she would be punished if she were caught. As an adult, she wrote while she was hungry and fearful for the safety of her own babies. She even wrote when it hurt to hold a pen.

Her work and her life were pioneering. Her stories for children were part of a new focus on young people. Her books on emigration encouraged other pioneers who struggled with life in a new country. She was one of the first to record the Ontario wilderness in literary and scientific detail.

Catharine wrote for herself, her family and for the public. She wrote to earn money, but her work showed that wonder, courage and faith are most important in life. These ideas were vital to her, but what in her own life shaped these beliefs and her writing? How did an English girl called Katie, born way before computers, typewriters or even fountain pens were invented, grow up to give so much to Canada's early literature?


This excerpt shows Lynn Westerhout's clear but engaging writing style through which she offers the reader a seamless account of Catharine Parr Traill's life. Making it home is exactly what Catharine and her husband, Thomas, had to do as pioneers in Canada. Their struggle extended to many aspects of their life: political, financial, physical, emotional, and spiritual, but they were determined to make Canada their home, and in this, they succeeded. Catharine's contribution, as a writer both for children and adults, to Canadian history is appropriately foregrounded and accurately communicated throughout this book

     Aptly titled, Making It Home looks at Catharine's entire life, 1802-1899, and relays facts in an interesting and story-like manner, which nicely mirrors her life passion for telling stories. Westerhout sticks to facts, which she pads to keep the reader engaged. The shaded sidebars provide extra socio-historical context as well as comparisons to life in the 21st century, making the material more relevant for contemporary readers.

     Although readers of all ages would enjoy this book, its intended audience is mid-upper elementary grades, given the rather simple syntax and diction. The content, however, is fairly sophisticated, dealing with hardship upon hardship: starvation, natural disaster, death in the family, depression, and hopelessness. To counter the ubiquitous challenges of life as a pioneer, Westerhout transcends hard-hitting themes by maintaining a hopeful tone throughout, and by not focusing on misfortune. Rather, she emphasizes Catharine's tendency to be optimistic when faced with adversity and her ability to persevere. The author describes her as "up and doing rather than bemoaning her fate."

internal art     Making It Home is organized chronologically with each page describing one section of Catharine's life at a time. A typical page consists of the following elements: an image of a flower located above the main text (suitable considering Catharine's other life passion: botany), a title and text, a functional rather than decorative image (photograph, drawing, sketch, etc.) and short sidebars providing additional and pertinent information related to the main text. The images are all black and white, whereas the sidebars, titles and flowers are brown. At first glance, the absence of colour struck me as rather drab and unattractive, but after reading from cover to cover, this stylistic choice makes sense, given the historical nature of the book. The photographs are obviously void of colour, just as they were in 1894, and the brown adds a feeling of antiquity and simplicity, mirroring these elements within the book. Repeating the design on each page provides stability and predictability, which is a relief given the tumultuous events of Catharine Parr Traill's life. As the reader tumbles from page to page, around event after event, the design works to calm on a subconscious level.

     In the back of the book, Westerhout includes a list of Catharine's published works, a brief chronology of her life, a bibliography, and an index of quotes used. The useful inclusion of an "Index and Glossary of Who's Who and What's What" is appreciated since so much goes on in this book, both in terms of events and people. Photo and art credits are also listed.

     A Frances E. Russell Award winner, Making It Home combines a personal history with Canadian history. These histories are immersed in a cohesive narrative to make it feel less like nonfiction and more like a story with many interesting facts.

     Making It Home would be a valuable addition to any classroom or library.


Andrea Szilagyi is a graduate student studying children's literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.

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

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