________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 38 . . . . June 4, 2010


The Ring. [Original Title: Tell Me Grandmother.]

Lyn Hancock & Marion W. Dowler.
Lantzville, BC: Lyn Hancock Books (www.lynhancock.com), 1985/2010.
235 pp., pbk., $24.95 (plus $10.00 shipping/handling plus GST $1.75 = $36.70)
ISBN 978-0-9810933-0-7.

Subject Headings:
Livingston, Jane, 1848-1919.
Livingston family.
Howse family.
Frontier and pioneer life-Prairie provinces.
Métis women-Prairie Provinces-Biography.
Women pioneers-Prairie Provinces-Biography
Northwest, Canadian-Biography.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Shelbey Krahn.

***½ /4


It didn’t look like an ordinary wedding ring. It was solid gold, encircled by a band of black enamel. Set into the band were three words: IN MEMORY OF. I’d often asked Grandmother Jane what those words meant. In memory of what? She had never told me or anyone else the story of her ring.


This family history illuminates the settling of the Canadian prairie provinces, from the Red River Settlement (Winnipeg) to Fort Calgary. The reader senses the courage and energy of the explorers and voyageurs, the frustrations of the Métis, the desperation of peoples dependent on buffalo, and the pride of the pioneers who survived and thrived. The authors achieve an excellent balance between the facts of history, nuggets of how people lived, and narrative suspense. Plentiful maps and pictures enhance the reader’s understanding of the text. Lyn Hancock is a well-published author, and co-author Marion W. Dowler is the wife of the grandson in the narrative.

     The novel is structured on a grandson (who seems about 12-years-old) asking his grandmother questions. He first asks, “Tell me, Grandmother, what did Great-great-grandfather Joseph Howse do to get his name on the map?” The first edition of this book is entitled Tell Me, Grandmother. Howse discovered a pass through the Rocky Mountains - Howse Pass which is near Howse River and Howse Mountain - making him the first fur trader for the Hudson’s Bay Company west of the Rockies.

     When he went back to England, leaving his Cree wife and child in Rupert’s Land as per Hudson’s Bay Company regulations, he wrote A Grammar of the Cree Language.

     The stories remain biographical but illuminate important historical factors and events in which the family is not directly involved, such as the Riel Rebellion, in a natural and interesting way. For example, Grandmother Jane’s family crosses the North Saskatchewan River at Batoche, where, in the future, Gabriel Dumont will ferry travelers across in a scow and fight in the Battle of Batoche. These details often poignantly enhance the reader’s understanding of history.

     The core of the story is the relationship between Sam Livingston and Grandmother Jane: their love, their adventures, their accomplishments, and their progeny. The authors generate suspense with the grandson’s frequent request to know more, especially about her strange ring, and Grandmother Jane’s refusing to satisfy his desire.

     This edition is 235 pages long, but the epilogue ends on page 159, making it easily short enough to read aloud in the classroom. Pages 160-235 are primarily black-and-white photographs of relevant people and places, but include chapters on finding a long lost family member and ghost sightings.

     The book strongly portrays pride in Métis heritage, effectively communicates the transformation of prairie life from nomadic to settled, and allows the reader to absorb history and culture in an entertaining and educational manner.

     The Ring is highly recommended to all Canadian prairie or Métis children and wherever the history of the Canadian prairies is taught. Even Canadian history students at the university level will benefit from the reading the detail and sweep of this historical biography, aided by its comprehensive index.

Highly Recommended.

Shelbey Krahn is a teacher-librarian and manages the Curriculum Resource Centre at Laurentian University in Sudbury, ON.

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

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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