CM March 15, 
1996. Vol. II, Number 22

image The Stonehook Schooner.

Written and illustrated by Judith Christine Mills.
Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1995. 28pp, paper, $14.95.
ISBN: 1-55013-653-4.

Grades 2 - 4 / Ages 7 - 9.
Review by Leslie Millar.



Matthew's father quickly ran up the storm jib so he could steer. He pulled on the wheel as hard as he could, but the wind and waves were too strong. The Hannah Mary rolled and pitched in the thick, dark soup of sky and water.
The rocks on the deck rolled from side to side, slamming against the wooden hull. Matthew's father shouted, "Stay close to me! We'll have to ride it out."

image Judith Christine Mills has created a lovely first book with The Stonehook Schooner. She is an artist who makes her home in Montreal, and has shown her paintings and sculptures galleries across Canada and the United States.


The Stonehook Schooner is a brief, historical fiction about Matthew, a boy who longs to go stonehooking with his father. stonehooking was the practise of gathering chunks of shale, sand, and gravel from coves around Lake Ontario and transporting them to bigger cities for building supplies. By the early 1900s, sophisticated inland quarrying and the introduction of concrete as a building material effectively ended the stonehooking trade.

Matthew's father, realizing his stonehooking days are numbered, relents one day and brings Matthew along. They are caught in a storm and Matthew proves his sea-worth by helping to safely navigate the schooner back to port.

Judith Mills has written a touching, but not sentimental story that combines a coming-of-age story in an imaginative and adventurous setting with historical and cultural details -- all against a background of familial love.


The writing is for the most part clear, though sometimes the text could more aptly describe the illustrations (specifically, where Matthew is "squeezed into" the bow when he has really climbed out onto the bowsprit). When the storm blows up, it is unclear why Matthew and his father were on the boat alone, when the previous page showed the crew on board and the text stated that the hold was full.

Mills's large, subtly coloured illustrations effectively convey the great scale of the boat and the strength of the men who form its crew. She also captures the frightful hugeness of lake and sky. The storm illustrations are particularly delightful.

The historical note at the end of the book helps give context to the story. A glossary of nautical terms used in the book would also have been useful to teachers and students.

In all, The Stonehook Schooner proved to be a most enjoyable history lesson for this reader. It is the sort of book that can be read and appreciated for the literary value or illustrations alone, but could also be tied in with other subject areas such as social studies or art.


Leslie Millar is a substitute teacher and volunteer in Winnipeg schools.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to

Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364