CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 17 . . . .April 13, 2007
The Summer of the Marco Polo: Inspired by the Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery.
Lynn Manuel. Illustrated by Kasia Charko.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2007.
32 pp., cloth, $19.95.
Marco Polo (Ship)-Juvenile fiction.
Montgomery, L.M. (Lucy Maud), 1874-1942-Juvenile fiction.
Shipwrecks-Prince Edward Island-Juvenile fiction.
Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-8.
Review by Lisa Doucet.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
In the morning a boat went out and brought the twenty men to shore - tired and wet and hungry. Captain Bull came to stay with us. The rest of the crew found boarding all around Cavendish.
Grandma and Grandpa Macneill have never liked to go visiting. And they don't care for callers dropping by for a cup of tea or a piece of cake, either. The post office is in our house, so the neighbours stop by to pick up their mail. But if grandfather were not the postmaster, hardly anybody would ever come over. And that is the plain truth of it.
But it was different the summer of the Marco Polo. There were always droves of people at our house then.
Based on the true story of a renowned sailing ship and its sorry end off the shores of Prince Edward Island in 1883, this tale was chronicled in the journals of legendary Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery. In those pages, Maud recorded the details of this exciting event and how the entire town of Cavendish was affected in the months that followed, as the Captain and crew members of the once-great vessel found lodging with various members of the small seaside community.
It all began on the day that eight-year-old Maud and her schoolmates were startled by a tremendous, resounding crash. After school, she and her friends raced to the shore where they discovered the cause of the commotion: a great ship that had run aground. The next morning, after the angry seas had subsided, a boat went out to rescue the crew and bring them ashore where they all found temporary lodging there in Cavendish. The ship's captain, Captain Bull, went to stay with young Maud and her stern, elderly grandparents.
As Maud and her grandparents got to know Captain Bull, he told them all about his ship, the Marco Polo, and how it came to pass that he had had to run her aground while they were en route to England with a cargo of timber in her hold. The little girl loved listening to the old sea captain's tales and regaled him with stories of her own, and she loved the way in which Cavendish became a completely different place with the lively crew members driving about town, singing merry songs. When the day came that the captain finally paid off his men and was preparing to take his leave, he told Maud "I will always remember your kindness against me." And, as she later recounted the events of that summer in her journal, it appears that Lucy Maud Montgomery always remembered him and the time that he was a part of their lives as well.
Author Lynn Manuel has beautifully retold this story in a manner that authentically recreates the event as Montgomery described it. Manuel has managed to incorporate many of Maud's observations about the event while also weaving aspects of Maud's life and character into the story, creating an insightful portrait of a lonely little girl whose life was touched by this historic happening. For example, Manuel describes how Maud's grandparents did not like to go visiting or encourage guests dropping by. She creates the impression of very strict, no-nonsense grandparents and also captures a hint of Maud's sensitive nature as she still grieves over the loss of her mother (who died when she was an infant). Maud's reference to her love of big words and how much she hates to be laughed at for using them gives readers an added glimpse into the heart of this tender-hearted, imaginative girl. And the story that the young Maud tells Captain Bull about her great grandmother's jug (a true story that was somewhat of a legend in Maud's family history) is further evidence that Manuel's story has been well-researched and is as true a depiction of the life of Maud Montgomery as it is a faithful retelling of the ship's saga.
Illustrator Kasia Charko is also to be commended for her lovely and authentic illustrations. Using watercolors and colored pencil, her images are faithful to the narrative and exquisitely depict the beauty of Cavendish's farmlands, fields and rugged coasts. Her portrayal of the Macneill grandparents and homestead are equally true-to-life, and the illustrations serve as a perfect complement to the tale. Together, author and illustrator have crafted a lovely book that is at once a successful evocation of life in Cavendish in the late 1800's, a vivid recreation of the demise of the Marco Polo, and a brief but illuminating snapshot of Lucy Maud Montgomery's early years.
Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS, and a lifelong fan of Lucy Maud Montgomery.
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