CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 35. . . .May 13, 2011.
Stones for My Father.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2011.
170 pp., hardcover & e-book, $21.99 (hc.), $21.99 (e-book).
ISBN 978-1-77049-252-3 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-77049-260-8 (e-book).
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.
Review by Michelle Superle.
I thought of Sipho, of Lindiwe and her little girls. Where were they now? Had they been vaccinated, given ration cards, and assigned to a bell-tent like ours?
I swallowed, struck by a more pressing question: was Sipho even alive? If the khakis found him guilty of murder, how long would they wait to execute him? I imagined my friend standing before a judge, struggling to understand the soldiers’ halting Dutch, and I wondered if anybody would try to defend him. I resolved to pray for him every day, harder than I’d prayed for anyone since Pa was sick. It was all I could do now.
Stones for my Father, a novel for readers aged 9-13, is Trilby Kent’s second work of historical fiction. This book is particularly unique in that it tells the tale of the Boer War from the perspective of Corlie Roux, a young girl of both Boer and English descent. Despite occasionally succumbing to some of the common pitfalls particular to children’s historical fiction (namely, a didactic tendency to cram in as many facts as possible), Stones for my Father is both educational and interesting.
The story is shaped chronologically around Corlie’s journey as her family is first displaced from their farm by English soldiers, then scrapes together a subsistence with other refugees in a “laager” camp, and is finally interned with other Boer women and children prisoners. Along the way, Kent includes many elements of interest, such as Corlie’s complicated relationship with her family’s Zulu’s slaves, one of which (Sipho) is her best friend, her rescue of an orphaned baby monkey, and the sly wiliness that enables Corlie to survive in the internment camp. As well, there is the continuous thread of Corlie’s ill treatment by her mother, which is ultimately revealed to be due to the fact that Corlie is half English and thus too closely related to the enemy for comfort, at least in her mother’s eyes.
Although the mother-daughter relationship is set within its historical context, its human rather than historical elements are what make this thread of the story the most compelling element in Stones for my Father. As is so often the case with historical fiction, the relationships, rather than the history, are what bring the tale to life; Kent performs this trick with impressive dexterity.
Due to its unique status as a contemporary Canadian children’s novel focussed on the Boer War, Stones for my Father is a valuable addition to elementary school libraries.
Michelle Superle earned her MA in children’s literature from UBC and her PhD in children’s literature from Newcastle University (UK). A children’s author, herself, she has also taught children’s literature, creative writing, and composition courses at several Canadian universities. She currently teaches writing courses at Okanagan College in Kelowna, BC.
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