CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 15. . . .December 11, 2009
His Banner Over Me.
Toronto, ON: Puffin Canada, 1995/2008.
216 pp., pbk., $8.99.
Children of missionaries-Juvenile fiction.
World War, 1914-1918-Canada-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.
Reviewed by Deborah Pethrick.
"...run and tell your sister and brother... you're going home to Canada. You'll be crossing the ocean. William will like that..."
Flora Gauld, or Gorrie as she is known to family, is the daughter of missionaries who have lived in Taiwan for 15 years. With her sister, Gretta, and brother, William, the only place Gorrie has known is Taiwan. Now at the age of five, Gorrie was going to Canada to meet brothers she has known only through pictures, as well as aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents.
Gordon, the oldest of the Gauld children, had lived in Taiwan until he was six. Then his parents had gone on furlough taking with them Gordon; his three year old brother Harvey; Gretta, a toddler; and their new baby Jean. They returned a year later with only Gretta after Jean died of pneumonia. Harvey, then four had been left to keep Gordon company. Both boys had stayed in Canada.
While becoming comfortable with life in Canada, Gorrie experiences Canadian winters, and Jean Little beautifully describes a snowfall.
She had been drawn to the window by the sight of swirling snowflakes caught in the light from the oil lamp. They were falling so thick and fast they looked like a shining swarm. The brisk wind kept them spinning and dancing. "Snow bees," Gorrie said softly. Or snow fairies maybe.
Gorrie and her sister must deal with a cruel teacher in a one room school, and again Little's descriptive writing brings the picture to life.
He had switched them all by now; making them cut the switch themselves and sending them back out if the thin whippy branches weren't to his liking. Gorrie had come close to vomiting while she sat through this... he was like a giant cat playing with mice.
Several years later, after the latest visit from the children's father, Gorrie's mother decides she must go back to Taiwan and continue her missionary work with her husband. She takes the newest baby, Dorothy, with her, leaving the older Gauld children behind to live with an aunt and uncle. Like the other Gauld children, Dorothy will also be sent back to Canada when she is older. For Gorrie and her siblings, it will be several years and the death of her older brother in World War I before they see their parents again when they decide to return to Canada for good.
When William and Margaret Ann Gauld appeared at the door of the train, Dorothy did not wait for the step to be lowered before she flung herself at them... Dorothy wept a salty fountain, dampening his coat thoroughly and half-strangling him with her thin arms... William had been only seven when his father had last seen him. He stared in shock at the tall fourteen-year-old lad facing him.
Now at 16, Gorrie and her family move to Toronto to start a life together as a family, and Gorrie decides to devote the next four years of her life becoming a doctor.
Based on the life of Jean Little's own mother, Flora Gauld, Little writes of the sacrifices the missionaries believed they had to make in order to do their work, of children separated from parents and being a support for each other. Her story tells of the faith –"love's banner"- family members needed in order to enable the Gault family to continue their missionary work and overcome obstacles. She writes of the conflicted emotions and loyalties the children felt trying to have true feelings for their actual parents while having a deep love for an aunt and uncle who had taken their place for so many years, and the heartbreak of leaving all that was familiar to create a new life in a new city with parents who were like strangers.
Readers will be swept up in Jean Little's realistic style of detailed writing. Vivid images of people and places will engage imaginations.
His Banner Over Me was the winner of the 1996 Violet Downey Book Award.
Deborah Pethrick works in a K-8 school library in Winnipeg, MB.
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