CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 1 . . . .September 2, 2005
Millie Sinclair's selfless actions nearly result in tragic consequences, in The Button Necklace, a story that unfolds as Canada enters World War I.
Millie spent Book One at the Kawartha Lakes where she was exposed to life among the Northern Ontario settlers and the native peoples. It's very different and more exciting than her Toronto home where her strict British mother commands a household of servants. Millie is a tomboy; and she dislikes the pressure to be ladylike and had been glad to escape it for a few months.
When she returns home, Millie finds her world has been turned upside down. The streets are full of soldiers, and her father has also enlisted. He is being sent to England. Even though everyone expects the war to end "before Christmas," she is still concerned about his safety. Now, Millie's mother will take over the household work as the maid takes a factory job and the chauffeur also enlists. Worse, Millie has been enrolled in the exclusive Bishop Strachan School for girls so that she will learn good manners and deportment.
Happily, a summer friend, Edwina MacCallum, is in her classroom. Quickly, Millie learns that Edwina's mother is a single parent, a journalist and a suffragist. Edwina also wants to organize a group of Rosebud, a girls' version of Boy Scouts and a precursor to the Brownies.
Millie's mother disapproves of the attitudes espoused by Edwina's mother—votes for women and wilderness training for girls in the Rosebuds. But Millie is drawn to the energy and ideas of the MacCallum family. Edwina's mother works as a journalist to support the family and takes the girls on an outing to investigate living conditions in Toronto's poorest neighbourhood, St. John's Ward. Immigrants from Britain and Europe are crammed into substandard housing there, and Millie is shocked at the conditions they face.
The climax sees Millie acting on her social conscience, with unforeseen consequences for her good-heartedness. Readers are given a tour of Toronto in 1914, a city of contrasts. Troon Harrison, by giving Millie a social conscience, provides readers with the opportunity to get a glimpse of the different economic and ethnic groups that made up the city. Mrs. Sinclair's fears about the newcomers, their different customs and languages, reflect the typical attitudes of the time. The conclusion is positive, although likely more complicated than this story presents.
The Button Necklace is a well-paced historical novel which will entertain and inform young readers of this segment of the "Our Canadian Girl" series.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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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.