________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 5 . . . . October 28, 2005


Lilly’s Special Gift. (First Novels, No. 32).

Brenda Bellingham. Illustrated by Clarke MacDonald.
Halifax, NS: Formac, 2005.
59 pp., pbk. & cl., $5.95 (pbk.), $14.95 (cl.).
ISBN 0-88780-664-3 (pbk.), ISBN 0-88780-665-1 (cl.).

Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.

Review by Caitlin Fralick.

*** /4


At recess I ask Theresa, “Why won’t Minna talk to me?”

“No one wants to talk to a shoplifter,” Theresa says. “Especially the person who received the stolen goods. People might think she stole them, then she’d have to go to jail. Maybe I shouldn’t talk to you either.”

“What are you talking about?” I ask. “What stolen goods?”

“What about the bracelet you gave her?” Theresa asks.

“I didn’t steal that!”

“Are you sure?” Theresa frowns at me.


The “First Novels” series combines simple yet eloquent prose by well-known Canadian authors with tasteful occasional illustrations to create an enjoyable, not-too-difficult reading experience for young readers who crave that most auspicious of genres—the chapter book. In this outing by Brenda Bellingham, the story of Lilly and her friends is satisfying and realistic with a touch of drama.

     What Lilly wants more than anything is to give her friend Minna the beautiful, diamond-encrusted bracelet she saw at the jewelry store. She knows that Minna, who is a pianist, would love to wear the bracelet when she performs. Unfortunately, the bracelet costs a thousand dollars—slightly more than the girl is willing to spend. Lilly and her mother find a similar bracelet for a lot less money at the farmer’s market, and they buy it together. At Minna’s birthday party, the bracelet is her favourite gift, and Lilly is elated. But the success of her gift makes their friend Theresa jealous. Believing the bracelet to be the expensive one from the jewelry store, Theresa starts a rumour that Lilly stole the bracelet. Over the next few days, the rumour spreads. Minna and Lilly’s friendship is threatened, as is Lilly’s reputation at school. Torn between being “tacky” by telling Minna and Theresa how much the bracelet cost and staying quiet and possibly losing all her friends, Lilly is confused and hurt that people would believe Theresa over her. In the end, Lilly does what she feels is right, and tells Minna the truth. After a trip to the jewelry store to confirm it, order is restored and friendships reaffirmed.

     Bellingham’s narrative eloquently conveys the often painful and unpredictable environment in which young children, particularly girls, try to sort out their relationships with their friends. The book explores the volatility of young friendship and playground politics in uncomplicated language that young readers will appreciate. Her characters are smart, observant and easily bruised. During one interaction with the owner of the jewelry store, during which the proprietor asks Lilly how much money she has in her piggy bank, Lilly thinks to herself, “When an adult says something like that to a kid, it’s called teasing. If a kid says it to an adult, it’s called being sassy.”  The theme of day-to-day injustice is prevalent throughout the book, and Bellingham deals with her characters’ worries and inadequacies with sensitivity.

     Clarke MacDonald’s occasional black and white drawings supplement the text and provide some visual context without being overpowering. The style is cartoonish but not exaggerated. On the whole, this is an enjoyable narrative that will be appreciated by any child who has ever worried about fitting in and doing the right thing. Bellingham guides children toward an understanding of right and wrong without shoving it in their faces, and these sympathetic characters will help the young reader absorb and process the larger ideas at play here. This book is one of many about Lilly, and readers who identify with the heroine will certainly look forward to reading other stories about her.


Caitlin Fralick is a prospective children’s librarian in the Master of Library Studies programme 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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