CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 35. . . .May 14, 2010
Kimberley of Millpond.
Bernice Thurman Hunter & Heather Anne Hunter.
Toronto, ON: (www.hunterbooks.ca,), 2009.
162 pp., pbk., $7.99.
Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.
Review by Ruth Latta.
Mrs. Grubb appeared behind the ripped screen door with a dripping ladle in one hand and a baby straddling her hip. "Soup's on!" she bellowed... "Go ask your mama if you can eat with us, dearie."
...The girls ducked under the wet clothes to reach the hubbub in the kitchen. Thirteen children, eight boys and five girls, pushed and shoved on the benches of a plank picnic table. On a daybed sagging against the wall, Sassy, their big collie dog, was contentedly nursing six pups. She looked up as they entered and gave a big curly-tongued yawn. Wiping his hands on his overalls, Mr. Grubb took his seat in a big chair at the end of the table. Mrs. Grubb, red-faced from the heat of the wood stove, wiped her dripping brow with the back of her forearm. with a groan she set a steaming cauldron in the middle of the table beside a towering stack of bread and a pot of lard.
In 1956, Kimberley Harris, a 10-year-old city girl, moves with her parents and younger sister to the small Ontario town of Millpond where her outlook is broadened by her friendship with three less advantaged children. "Kim's parents... not being townsfolk themselves, felt a kind of kinship with anyone who was shunned." Edie is in danger of failing in school until Kim's tutoring brings her up to standard. Bobby, the class cut-up, who bullies Kim and Edie, is being raised by a troubled mother. Jenny Grubb, who lives in a "have-not" household teeming with children, behaves roughly until Kimberley and Edie intervene to make her change her ways.
Unlike Anne of Green Gables, who commits faux pas when adjusting to village life, Kimberley of Millpond never errs or goofs. Her keen powers of observation even lead to the capture of thieves and a $500 reward to be added to her university education fund. Gleaming in her starched cotton sundresses, she is sought after. Jenny, for example, wishes that she could "perform some heroic feat and save Kimberley from certain death to earn her lifelong gratitude."
Details about 1950s products and customs add authenticity and charm, but some references may be lost on today's young readers. We are told, for instance, that Edie and Kim march Jenny to Mr. Snyder's store like "Marshall Dillon" escorting a prisoner, but do kids today know the TV western Gunsmoke?
In this episodic novel, most of the incidents further the theme that friendship transcends inequality. Some occurrences, however, appear to have been included to add 1950s colour, or perhaps because they really happened.
In fact, co-authors Bernice Thurman Hunter and Heather Anne Hunter drew upon real life in creating Kimberley of Millpond. The account of how this novel came into being is a fascinating story in itself.
The late Bernice Thurman Hunter, who died in 2002, won the Vicky Metcalf award for writing for children, and she was also appointed to the Order of Canada. That Scatterbrain Booky, With Love from Booky and As Ever, Booky were the source of three recent CBC Sunday evening movies. Bernice Hunter also wrote 15 novels published with Scholastic of Canada.
One of her last wishes was that her daughter, Heather Anne Hunter, complete her work-in-progress, a World War II novel for young adults. Heather did so, and The Girls They Left Behind was published by Fitzhenry and Whiteside in 2005. In going through her mother's computer files, Heather Anne also discovered another novel being revised - Bernice's first attempt at a book length work. Heather Anne decided to bring her own childhood memories into play and to complete the novel, and the result is Kimberley of Millpond. This unique mother-daughter collaboration is illustrated with photographs of the Hunter family, showing Anita Hunter ("Kim") and Heather Anne ("Valerie") when they lived in Millbrook, ON.
Growing up in the 1950s, I remember feeling bereft on coming to the end of the L.M. Montgomery novels and realizing that there would be no more because the author was dead. Years later, when a collection of Montgomery's early stories was released, I was disappointed because they were not quite of the same quality as Montgomery's writing in her prime. Remembering my early feeling of loss, and imagining young readers yearning for another Bernice Thurman Hunter novel, I applaud Heather Anne Hunter for her labour of love in producing Kimberley of Millpond.
A resident of Ottawa, ON, Ruth Latta says her most recent novel, Spelling Bee, is for grown-ups.
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