CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 1 . . . .September 2, 2005
The third "Elizabeth" book does not require readers to be familiar with the contents of Elizabeth: Bless This House or Elizabeth: To Pirate Island as Carter provides an opening two page "Elizabeth's Story Continues" section which provides enough of the antecedent action for readers new to the series to be able to understand the contents of Elizabeth: A Hornbook Christmas. Nonetheless, those who have read the earlier volumes will enjoy a deeper understanding of the characters and their relationships. In Elizabeth: To Pirate Island, Elizabeth Brightman, before requiring rescuing from Pirate Island, had discovered the island's buried treasure, leather bound books written in French. In Elizabeth: A Hornbook Christmas, which is set in November-December, 1762, Elizabeth comes to realize that Mathilde LeBlanc, the Acadian girl to whom she gave the French language books, cannot read, and so Elizabeth decides to teach her how to do so. However, Elizabeth does not want to embarrass Mathilde by exposing her illiteracy, and so Elizabeth decides upon an indirect route. Elizabeth will provide reading lessons to five-year-old Joshua Porter, and she correctly assumes that Mathilde, who is taking care of the young boy in the motherless Porter household, will be enticed by Joshua's lessons. Elizabeth later adds another unlikely student, Ginny, a young slave who had been brought by Caleb Worth from Connecticut to Nova Scotia.
Learning how to read as a central plot focus doesn't offer readers the same excitement that was provided in the two previous books. The biggest "tension" occurs when Mathilde undertakes to use some of her new "reading" knowledge; however, when she opens one of the French books that Elizabeth had earlier given her, she is dismayed to see that a number of the letters in the French volume had "little marks over them." Treating the situation as a puzzle to be solved, Elizabeth discovers a key via the Gospel of Matthew. In the book's closing section, which occurs on Christmas Day, Elizabeth's reading lessons pay off as the Brightman, LeBlanc and Porter families share Christmas dinner, and Mathilde and Joshua surprise everyone by participating in the reading of the Luke 2 version of the Christmas story, Mathilde doing so in French.
As in the earlier books, Carter unobtrusively slips in numerous historical facts. Today's students, who likely take the learning of reading and writing for granted, may be surprised by Ginny's statement that slaves would "lose an ear down south if they was ever caught reading." With contemporary technology, clothes washing is a minor inconvenience, certainly when the chore is compared with what occurred in the seventeenth century as then even the soap had to be self-produced.
A theme introduced in Elizabeth: To Pirate Island, that of Caleb Worth's antagonism towards Mathilde's older brother, Lucien, because of the possible romance between French Catholic Lucien and Caleb's English protestant daughter, Sarah, returns. Readers will undoubtedly expect this conflict to find a resolution in the next volume. As well, Elizabeth: A Hornbook Christmas closes with a reminder that Elizabeth's mother's "baby comes in March.... Winter would fly by until the very best surprise of all: the new baby. The New Year promised to be full of wonderful things."
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and adolescent literature in the faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.