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


The Magical Christmas Light of Old Nova Scotia.

Bruce Nunn. Illustrated by Yolanda Poplawska.
Halifax, NS: Nimbus, 2004.
40 pp., pbk., $16.95.
ISBN 1-55109-4963-0.

Subject Headings:
Christmas stories, Canadian (English).
Immigrant children-Nova Scotia-Juvenile fiction.
Nova Scotia-History-19th century-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Alison Mews.

*1/2 /4



Uncle Captain sat by the glowing fire in the evenings, spinning wonderful stories. His eyes crinkled with fine wrinkles as he tried to cheer the children with fun tales of ghosts and buried treasure. Usually, his special brightness lightened Jack and Holly's gloomy mood. But this evening the twins remained quiet. Their parents looked worried. The wise captain could see the children's sad mood was going to ruin Christmas for them and for everyone.


In 1873, two Nova Scotian immigrant children miss Christmas in their old home. To cheer them, a retired sea captain takes them on a voyage to seek "the magical Christmas light" he discovered when he was a young man returning home from the sea. The children embark eagerly on the search, mistaking many different lights for the special one, but, of course, it isn't until they see the light of their new home many days later that they realize it is the magical light they were seeking.

internal art     This weak storyline frames a thinly disguised history of Nova Scotia in the 19th century, touching on the Acadian deportation, the opening of the Springhill mine, Mi'kmaq legends and the advent of cable and kerosene. While some of the events described were dramatic, the sense of drama is missing as the captain relates much of the information and the children's responses are described as "Brave men, he thought" or "That's awfully clever, thought Holly". Throughout, the language remains pedestrian with phrases like "long hours of hard work," "dangerous waters" and "wonderful idea" being the norm and the occasional imaginative simile like "The children's questions rang out like church bells on Christmas eve" occurring too infrequently.

     The book is attractively designed with vibrant illustrations of the Nova Scotian landscape. Unfortunately, Poplawska's cartoonish figures are stiffly posed, and their facial expressions are so minimal that they do little to enhance the dramatic aspects of the story. While this book may have an audience in Nova Scotia, parents and teachers in other parts of the country will be best advised to seek elsewhere for compelling Christmas reading.

Recommended with Reservations.

Alison Mews is the librarian of the Curriculum Materials Centre at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in John's, NL.

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

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