________________ CM . . . . Volume IV Number 17 . . . . April 24, 1998

Cover Under Emily's Sky.

Ann Alma.
Vancouver, BC: Beach Holme, 1997.
90 pp., paper, $8.95.
ISBN 0-88878-379-5.

Subject Heading:
Carr, Emily, 1871-1945-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3 - 7 / Ages 8 - 12.
Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4


"The elephant?" Lee and Alex asked at the same time. First a monkey, and now an elephant. Was Emily Carr part of a circus? Did she do disappearing acts?

"The trailer," she said, waving her hand in its direction. "My summer home. I call her the elephant." She walked back into the tent. While they stirred [the paint], Lee and Alex whispered about what to do. This had to be the right beach, but their parents were gone. The fire pit was in a different place. The canoe, the clothes line, even the tubes had disappeared. In its place were Emily Carr and an old trailer she called the elephant. She thought they were twins who lived up on the hill. A loud crashing sound meant another one was dead.

"Another what?" Lee wanted to know. "A fallen tree maybe?"

Lee is an 11-year-old girl who is upset and hurt because her mother has finally become so totally fed up with her unreformable drunkard husband that she has kicked him out permanently. Lee shouts, screams, and slams doors in protest, but the only real relief she gets is through writing in her diary and painting, though she can only do the latter in art class at school since her father sold her paints and easel some months previously to buy booze. The day after his exodus, Lee and her mother go camping with an uncle, his partner and their son, Alex. Lee trips over a root, and, when she wakes up from the bump on the head, she is back in 1936. "Her" grownups have vanished, but a strange woman is camping in their spot with several dogs and a monkey (and the "elephant").

      The woman, of course, is Emily Carr (whom Lee has just learned about at school), who assumes Lee is a homesteader girl living up the mountain and wanting art lessons, and so she gives her paints and tells her to get on with creating, to "dig into her story". This experience plus Lee's encounter with the family of squatters up the mountain who cut trees illegally because they had been evicted from their Prairie farm give Lee a sense of perspective on her own problems, as well as some coping strategies which stay with her when, inevitably, she trips over another root and catapults back to her own time.

      This book is attempting to be painlessly instructive, and, in large part, it succeeds. It is also attempting to be a thrilling adventure story, and a "problem" novel, with somewhat less success. Lee, in particular, while a sympathetic character, hasn't much depth, and it is hard to believe that she would not have felt more resentment over the sale of her paints and, therefore, relief at her father's departure, given the degree of artistic talent she is described as having. And the children's adventures are more interesting than gripping. The cover is a reproduction of Carr's "Above the trees", a dark and brooding sky that makes a very attractive looking book.

      There are, however, fine opportunities to tell the reader something about Emily Carr, about the Depression on the Prairies, and about the evils of clear-cut logging. These educational, and admittedly interesting, sidelights are, in fact, highlights of the teachers' guide, along with ideas for how the book can be used as a jumping-off point for language-arts and other projects. The guide, which includes some archival photographs of Emily Carr and her elephant and other pets, comes free with the purchase of a class set (20 copies) of the novel. The location of a web site where more information can be gleaned and an extensive bibliography are also included in the guide.


Mary Thomas works in two elementary school libraries in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © 1998 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