CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 7. . . .October 16, 2009
The Malagawatch Mice and the Cat Who Discovered America.
Sydney, NS: Cape Breton University Press, 2009.
60 pp., pbk., $14.95.
Grades 2-6 / Ages 7-11.
Review by Janice Foster.
But Grandpa needed to find out what the year 1398 meant, and the records in the archives didn't go back that far.
As he stood thinking, something occurred to him.
There was a group whose history went back much further than the Scottish settlers—and that was the Mi'kmaq mice. Nova Scotia was their home long before the Scots arrived.
The Malagawatch Mice and the Cat who Discovered America follows Caroline Stellings'The Malagawatch Mice and the Church that Sailed. The first book was inspired by the moving of the historical church in Malagawatch, built on the site of a Mi'kmaq mission church, across Bras d'Or lake to the Highland Village of Iona. In this sequel, Stellings selects another piece of Nova Scotian folklore and again tells the story through the mice who live in the church.
In The Malagawatch Mice and the Cat who Discovered America, a bright orange cat with a mysterious token, inscribed with the date 1398, around his neck moves into the church. He declares himself to be "a no-good stray" and enjoys making life difficult for the mice. Grandpa mouse is certain that both the cat's name, Henry, and the token must be significant. Grandpa visits the Mi'kmaq mice and asks for their help. In hearing the tales of Glooscap, Grandpa learns of Prince Henry Sinclair, a Scotsman from the Orkney Islands who visited Nova Scotia in 1398. He had with him an orange cat, but this cat, unlike the one in the church was kind. Sinclair gave the cat to Glooscap. The token around its neck was "a symbol of his deep respect for the cat, and an eternal reminder that they came to the new world in that year." Will this important information make a difference to Henry and the Malagawatch mice?
Presenting historical fiction to a younger audience is challenging. Having the story told through the perspective of animals will appeal to the young readers. The inclusion of numerous watercolour illustrations, a larger font text and the addition of some narrative rhyming seem to be used with a younger reader in mind. However, these elements do not necessarily make this a book which will hold the interest of its intended reading audience. The amount of text and the vocabulary level will require that the story be read aloud to younger children. Also the historical and cultural content of the story might be challenging for readers of this age. This possible lack of background knowledge, together with the picture storybook format, might decrease older readers' interest in this book.
At the end of the first book, The Malagawatch Mice and the Church that Sailed, a short
historical summary explaining the history of the church was included. It would be useful if this
information, as well as the background behind Prince Henry Sinclair with a note about the Mi'kmaqs of Nova Scotia and Glooscap, was added to The Malagawatch Mice and the Cat who Discovered America so that readers would have a reference point for the story's content. Another helpful addition would be a pronunciation guide for the Gaelic names, such as Seonaid and Coinneach, as well as explanations for terms like "drugget."
It is important that children of all ages become acquainted with our country's history and folklore.
Stellings is to be commended for using her storytelling ability to expose younger children to
the historical fiction genre. The unique flavour of Nova Scotia is strongly evident in The Malagawatch Mice and the Cat who Discovered America. However, this book, unless read aloud, might have limited appeal due to the factors that seem to be incompatible for the age range of the audience. The youngest readers needs less text while the older readers need a slightly more sophisticated format. This book would be most useful for teachers and librarians and local historians to promote historical fiction and folklore with children.
Recommended with reservations.
Janice Foster is a recently retired teacher and teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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