CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 1. . . .September 7, 2012
Day of the Cyclone. (Disaster Strikes!; 7).
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2012.
167 pp., trade pbk., $8.95.
Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.
Review by Erika Heesen.
Ella looped the strap of her Brownie around her neck, grabbed the picnic basket, and started up Smith Street. She had to hurry, or she'd get wet. As she walked, Ella went over in her head what she'd say to her father. It was going to be hard to describe how she knew Billy was innocent. Her father would want proof and she didn't have any. She felt another drop of rain. She walked faster, the empty picnic basket bumping against her legs.
Then she heard a train.
That was odd. The train tracks were north of the city, but the sound was coming from the south. How could that be? Strange as it was, the noise definitely sounded like a train and it was getting louder by the second. What was it? All she could see were dark clouds. It was going to be a fearsome storm. She ran.
1912: Ella, 12-years-old, is living in Regina, SK, and struggling to deal with her mother's rules for a proper young lady. For Ella's birthday, her father surprises her with the gift of a Brownie camera and tells her that, for a good picture, she should look for the things that "don't belong." Following his instructions leads Ella to learn more about Billy, the new boy at school. It also leads her to explore parts of the city she has never been before, including the poorer areas, and to meet people from different walks of life.
When a thief steals money from Ella's mother's purse and then from the bank where her father works, suspicion falls on Ella's friend, Billy. Ella is determined to prove his innocence, despite his rough background. In the midst of all of this, a tornado hits Regina, throwing the entire city into upheaval.
Penny Draper's blending of historical events, social issues, and the idea that appearances are not always what they seem is well done throughout the book. Modern girls will identify with Ella's feelings of constriction with women's 'household role,' and this story serves as an excellent introduction to the very real social issues of women's rights, racism, and immigration as they existed in 1912. While the story is mostly told from Ella's viewpoint, Billy's side of the story and the vivid descriptions of the cyclone and its aftermath will keep this book interesting for boys as well.
Ella's camera is well-used as a plot device for Ella to seek out new scenes and people, and its use rarely feels artificial. Draper's use of real archival photographs throughout the book as part of the story adds to the book, particularly in revealing the impact of the cyclone on Regina. Draper's afterword is concise and quickly separates out the fact from the fiction for those who want to know what really happened during the cyclone.
The "Disaster Strikes!" series is based around the theme of real Canadian disasters. While this novel is technically part of this series, each book is a stand-alone novel in its own right.
Erika Heesen is the Interim CEO at the Leeds and the Thousand Islands Public Library near Brockville, ON.
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