________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 15 . . . .March 21, 2008


Boxcar Kid.

Norma Charles.
Toronto, ON: Sandcastle Book/Dundurn, 2007.
120 pp., pbk., $11.99.
ISBN 978-155002-755-6.

Subject Headings:
Canadians, French-speaking-British Columbia-History-Juvenile fiction.
Frontier and pioneer life-British Columbia-Juvenile fiction.
Lumber trade-British Columbia-History-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Myra Junyk.

*** /4



The path was crowded with disembarking passengers laden with baggage. They were mostly lively young men from around where Luc and his family had come, from Quebec and eastern Ontario near Ottawa. One hundred and ten people in all. They had been recruited to work at Fraser Mills, one of the largest lumber mills in North America.

Another line of cyclists came weaving between the passengers, back and forth across the path. Young fellows around Lucís age. Their bicycles rocketed by on silk-smooth rubber tires soundlessly. The boys werenít soundless, though. They shouted at one another in loud cheerful English voices. Something about a ball game at the park? Baseball maybe? Luc strained to hear.

A cyclist swerved around them.

"Watch out!" Papa shouted.

Another cyclist cut in beside them, heading for Maman. As Luc lurched between the rider and his mother, the cyclist bashed his elbow and he lost his balance, letting the trunk slip from his grip.

"On, no! I dropped it!" He lunged to grab the handle, but the trunk hit the edge of the path and toppled down the bank into a ditch.

Papaís violin! It was in the trunk! What if it got damaged! That violin meant more to Papa than anything.

Luc dived after the trunk.


As the novel opens, 13-year-old Luc Godin arrives in Fraser Mills where his father has taken a job at the local lumber mill. The entire family has come from Quebec to live in the lumber town on the banks of the Fraser River east of New Westminster, BC. Disaster strikes when Luc drops the familyís trunk after being jostled by some boys on bicycles. His fatherís precious violin is destroyed. However, more disaster awaits the family. They arrive in town to find out that they have nowhere to live! Their home has not yet been built. As a result, Lucís family and four other French Canadian families are forced to live in an abandoned boxcar. How will they survive?

     Luc soon adapts to his new life in Fraser Mills. Although Lucís fear of horses causes him to lose his job as a stable boy working with his father, he soon gets a job in the office of the lumber mill translating letters from French into English, tutoring the managerís son, and helping around the office. Luc is saving his money for a new bicycle, but when his little brother breaks his leg while riding a bicycle with Luc, Luc must confront his fear of horses by riding the managerís horse to get the doctor. He realizes that the money he has saved should be spent on a new violin for his father Ė not on a new bicycle!

      Luc is a very sympathetic character who learns a lot during his time as a "boxcar kid." He learns to deal with his fear of horses which was caused by a tragic accident in Quebec which killed his older brother, Leo. He learns what is important in life Ė his family, his values and his education. Although Norma Charles does a good job describing Lucís life in his new environment, readers might have enjoyed more details about Lucís family, his grief for his brother and his resulting fear of horses.

      The story is an interesting look at the immigration of French-Canadians to the developing Canadian West. In this case, the immigrants arrived to work in the lumber industry. The difficulties they face give the reader some perspective on the lives of "pioneers" in the lumber industry. Their lives were difficult and full of many challenges. Issues that we take for granted - such as housing, food and health care - were major concerns for these immigrants. Readers will be intrigued to know that immigration happens not just between countries Ė but internally in Canada.


Myra Junyk is the former Program Co-ordinator of Language Arts and Library Services at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Currently, she is working as a literacy advocate and author.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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