CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 1 . . . .September 2, 2005
Keeley lives in the rough and tumble coal-mining town of Frank, Alberta in 1902. The town is so new that many miners and their families must live in tents. It's the perfect setting for a well-meaning, but adventurous tomboy who would rather explore than do her homework.
Keeley was introduced to young readers when she moved to Frank with her father, six months earlier. Her mother has died, and now Keeley is being brought up in a boarding house inhabited by a mixture of different characters that were drawn to frontier towns. Coal is in huge demand to heat the homes of Canada's rapidly expanding population. The mines are dangerous places, as Keeley discovered in Book One of this historical fiction series, The Girl from Turtle Mountain.
When Keeley wins a spelling bee, she lands a job checking spelling errors at the local newspaper. Her father hopes the work will help tame his daughter's curiosity about absolutely everything except schoolwork. He couldn't have been more wrong. Keeley's interest in investigative journalism was sparked by a meeting with Cora Hind, one of the first women reporters and an ardent campaigner for women's rights.
Keeley and her friend Patricia form their own detective agency to solve two mysteries that have arisen. The first is the case of the missing cooking implements, food and clothing from different townspeople. The second is the apparently secretive behaviour of their usually prim and proper school teacher, Miss Griffen. She acts so distractedly that she forgets to rebuke Keeley for not doing her homework several days in a row.
Keeley's investigations put her in great danger, but the solution to one mystery also provides answers to the other. The events reveal to Keeley that some truths are difficult to comprehend. Like most children, she has always accepted what she is told at face value, especially official pronouncements from the King and the government. Her eyes are opened by her experiences, and she must make decisions that are beyond her years.
Deborah Ellis has again provided young readers with an interesting and informative novel. Keeley is a lively, believable character with the hopes and concerns of a typical child. Her world is full of supporting characters who are similarly interesting and move in and out of the story logically. Ellis has interwoven important events and trends from the turn of the last century when Canadian troops were fighting the Boer War in South Africa on behalf of Britain, when women were agitating for the vote, workers were demanding safer working conditions and Canada's population was swelling with European immigrants who were moving west. Ellis creates realistic dialogue and elucidates Keeley's observations thoroughly.
Tweens will identify with Keeley in Keeley's Big Story. They will learn a lot about Canadian history and the people who lived during those times.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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