CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 10. . . .January 9, 2009
The Belonging Place.
Toronto, ON: Puffin Canada, 1997/2008.
149 pp., pbk., $8.99.
Frontier and pioneer life-Canada-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Deborah Mervold and Kessa Gerein.
I suppose I made my misery all too plain. But I did not notice how fed up with me my family had grown until Granny took me to task.
"It's high time you gave up moping and got busy," she said.
"Busy with what?" I growled. "I can't move!"
"That tongue of yours is active enough," she snapped. Then she went on more gently, "You need something to take your mind off yourself, lassie. The Dominie tells us you could be an author like Miss Austen someday. Why dinna you write us a book to read in the evenings?"
"Me! Write a book!" I could not believe my ears.
"Mrs. Traill and her sister must have been girls like you once upon a time," Granny said calmly. "Jane Austen too. And the author of Holiday House, come to that. I'm sure they began scribbling down stories when they were no older than you are now."
"What could I write about?" I said, startled but pleased with this wild notion.
"Why not your own story?" she said, surprising me again. "You hae done a mickle lot of living for a maid in her sixteenth year."
I saw at once that she was right. But paper was scarce and expensive and I would need a lot if I were to write a whole book. Granny read my mind. She has always been good at that. She left me to think while she fetched a big ledger that had belonged to Grandpa Ross.
Elspet Mary has had many adventures in her 16 years, and all have helped her to discover the person she is. The prelude sets the scene when Elspet and her family have moved to Canada. She falls off a wagon and is injured. Because of her limited mobility and increasing bad humour, her grandmother encourages Elspet to write her own story. The prelude is entitled, "How I got started writing my book," and is then followed by 19 chapters in which Elspet tells her story as remembers it.
She starts when she is about four and living with her mam in Aberdeen, Scotland. One day, her mother leaves her with a neighbor. Kristy, Elspet's mother, is run over and killed by a horse. The neighbour keeps her until her da, who is a sailor, returns from a voyage. Her father is only home for a short time and takes her to Glen Buchan to live with his wife's brother, William, and sister-in-law, Ailsa. They are happy to add Elspet to their family of two sons. Elspet's maternal grandparents also live in the area, but they want nothing to do with Elspet because her mother had run off with a sailor. Even though his daughter had married the sailor, the grandfather could not forgive his daughter. When Elspet's father dies at sea, he has left instructions for Elspet to be legally adopted by her aunt and uncle which they are glad to do.
One day, a man from Canada, comes to their village to encourage farmers to leave Scotland and come to Canada. Land is cheap and plentiful. Elspet's adopted father is interested and, with his brother, makes the journey. They plan to return for the family in a year when they have built lodging and started clearing the land. Elspet is not happy to leave her friends and her kitten to go to a new land where she feels that she does not belong. Her granny Ross, her aunt's mother, lives with them in Glen Buchan and feels that she does not want to travel. Her granny offers to keep her kitten.
The journey is difficult, but after a lengthy sea crossing, a wagon ride and then by walking, the family arrives in Upper Canada in the township of Nichol. Everyone works very hard to make the farm a success. Elspet misses a girl her own age, and her mother misses someone to help out with the work. They finally find a girl to help with the chores, and a family moves in not far away. There is a girl about Elspet's age, Jeanie Mackay, and a baby called Jamie. When Jeanie's family arrived in Montreal, cholera was raging and her young brother died. The MacKay's have taken in Jamie who was the only survivor in his family staying at the same lodging. Mrs. Mackay is having a difficult time accepting the death of her son and resents Jamie. Elspet's mother sends a note to Mrs. Mackay telling her that she will find a good home for "the changeling," as Mrs. Mackay calls Jamie. Mrs. Mackay realizes that Jamie is part of the family and has a place with them.
Elspet worries about finding a place to belong. After her mother died, she was in good homes but felt that she was different and not one of the families. After hearing the story of her mother's life and why she left, Elspet realizes that she does belong both in her family and in her new country.
The Belonging Place would appeal to a variety of readers, including readers of historical fiction and adventure stories as well as fans of Jean Little. The theme of belonging is an appropriate topic for the intended age group. This book would be an excellent class novel for individual reading or as a read-aloud choice. It would also be good supplemental reading to go along with the Social Studies curriculum about pioneer life and immigration. It would be an excellent addition for personal, class, school and public libraries.
Deborah Mervold is an educator from Shellbrook, SK, now doing faculty training and program development at Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology. Kessa Gerein is a Grade Six student in Saskatoon, SK.
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