CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 38. . . .May 31, 2013
Belle's Journey was first published in print form in 1993 by Orca Books, and it is now available as an e-book for a new generation of children to appreciate and enjoy. This version has an audio component with the author reading the text in a clear, firm voice.
Based on a true story of a horse that saved the life of a little girl in a prairie blizzard in the 1920s, Belle's Journey is a true Canadian prairie classic, a story of grittiness and the heroism of a beloved family pet.
Belle is past her prime, but even though Molly is briefly tempted to take up her father's offer of a faster, exciting young pony, she can't abandon her steadfast friend. The child's loyalty is repaid when a sudden blizzard catches the pair on Molly's way home from a piano lesson one day, an eight-mile journey.
Reynolds educates young readers as she tells the story. Early prairie farmers were extremely poor, which is why "Molly rode bareback, as there was no money for a saddle." When Molly realizes that a blizzard is brewing, Reynolds explains that her fear is justified because "Every winter a few people would become lost in their own yard and freeze to death." What chance did a child on a horse have out in the open? Reynolds's writing is measured, but she builds tension over the child's fate as the storm worsens. "She shut her eyes against the sting of the sharp snowflakes and held tighter to the horse's mane…The old horse struggled on, head down. She turned and lunged into the drifts as she fought her way through the storm."
Stephen McCallum's coloured pencil illustrations complement the story well. The summertime pictures show the beauty of the prairie, the yellow grain swaying in the breeze, the blue sky a canopy above. But the winter is a dangerous season, with leaden skies and blinding snow falling into impassible drifts. Molly's face shows fear and helplessness as the wind and snow assault her. Belle shows her age – she's a rough-looking nag with a matted mane – no beauty, but tough and reliable, just what Molly needs.
Belle's Journey was reviewed previously in CM in Volume 21 Number 4 September, 1993. This is a story that will fit well into a teaching unit about the prairies, about pioneer life or about weather. It's a must-have for a school or class library. I make a point of reading the print edition of this book to Early Years students every winter, and each time the children worry over Molly and cheer at Belle's determination and sense of direction.
The e-book is as satisfying as the print edition. Belle's Journey will engage children at bedtime or on a trip – good literature for young minds, the best use we can make of new technologies.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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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.