CM March 1, 
1996. Vol. II, Number 20

image Cassandra's Driftwood.

Budge Wilson.
Illustrated by Terry Roscoe.
Lawrencetown Beach, NS: Pottersfield Press, 1994. 46pp, paper, $7.95.
ISBN: 0-9l9002-85-8.

Grades 2 - 4 / Ages 7 - 9.
Review by Jennifer Johnson.



Cassandra Westhaver lived in a small fishing village beside the sea. . . . It was a beautiful place to live. The sun rose in the morning over the sea and set in the evening behind the wooded hill to the west. The fish-houses were painted many bright and happy colours. But Cassandra couldn't always enjoy the sun and the sea and the thirty-six boats. Sometimes she had too much on her mind to notice them. Even when she was looking right at them. it was as though they weren't there. She was too busy looking at what was going on inside her own head.

image Cassandra is plagued by shyness. She hates her own timidity and hovers on the edge of playground activities, wishing she could join in. In particular, she wants to make friends with Lindy, a new girl in class. Cassandra practises speaking up, for she has problems both at home and in the classroom. She wants to stop taking piano lessons and she feels that she can't see the chalkboard properly.

But her efforts are in vain until the day she claims an elaborate piece of driftwood for her own. After soliciting her father's help to secure the wood, Cassandra begins a blissful period of make-believe in which "Alonzo" plays many parts. And Cassandra finds new courage to speak out when the driftwood is carried away and added to a bonfire pile on the beach. Her assertiveness leads her to confront the teenaged picnickers, recover her treasure, make overtures of friendship to Lindy, and drift off to sleep full of resolutions for the morrow.

Budge Wilson, an award-winning author for children, has created a solitary, isolated child in Cassandra, who, through love of her driftwood character, faces down her shyness and emerges strong-willed and confident. Wilson who writes so eloquently and effectively in her short stories for older readers, has narrowed her range for this book. Pottersfield Press calls this a beginning chapter book "which will encourage even reluctant readers to become involved in the life of Cassandra." Unfortunately, the tailoring-down of Wilson's art isn't successful.


Although the writing is simple and direct, Wilson tries to cover too many elements. Wilson describes Cassandra's feeling of isolation as "being in a box with a lid," but she never really gets across why Cassandra is so completely set apart. As a result, the proliferation of connected difficulties -- Cassandra's distance from her peers; her vision problems; her mother's indifference to Cassandra's pronouncement, "I'm with Alonzo. I talk to him, and he takes the lid off my box"; and her father's reaction when she asks him to salvage the driftwood ("sometimes I think I'll never understand women") -- are hard to credit. And the resolution of so many problems in a one sweep at the end is equally unrealistic.

Two other concerns with this book are the size and the illustrations. The 15 X 23 cm. paperback format allows for an expanded print area, but not for easy storage on paperback racks. Older children who are still developing reading skills and who want "mature-looking" paperbacks, will be put off.

The illustrations pose another problem. Terry Roscoe uses black-and-white ink drawings that render background details with beautiful accuracy, but her figures are not consistent. Cassandra is difficult to place in age -- although she looms large in her fight with the teenagers, she appears considerably smaller in another pivotal event, her first talk with Lindy. And the snake shown in the school yard is never part of the story; a quibble to be sure, but distracting.

Not recommended.

Jennifer Johnson is a children's librarian in Ottawa.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364