Barbara Nichol. Illustrated by Barry Moser.
Grades 3 and up / Ages 8 and up.
Grades 3 and up / Ages 8 and up.
Who believes the publisher's blurb? Come on now! "A stunning tale of a forgotten summer full of magic." Indeed, surprisingly, that description does capture this rare book's essence. From the words on the pages there cascades a distinct air of mystery, a child's half-knowing, all mixed together with the atmosphere of hot, humid air hanging heavy - physically and emotionally - over the city, over the protagonists. And, like poetry, it speaks loudest in what is left unsaid.
"There was something they used to have to keep the dippers from your house and that was dipper bells. You'd hang them near the front door to keep the dippers away, and then you'd hear them any time you had a breeze. People said dippers didn't like the tinkling noise.
Some people had them hanging all around their house and in the trees.
We had them because Aunt Benedict brought them up from Windsor.
But then some people said dippers liked the sound and would come to the bells instead of going away.
Maybe they worked and maybe they didn't. I don't know.
The dippers didn't want you going over to them. You'd see there would be people waiting for the streetcar and there would be a little crowd of dippers close by behind them.But if anyone made out like they were going over to them, the dippers would just pick up off the ground to get away. You'd hear clickety, clickety. They didn't get up very high though. They'd go around something if they had the chance.
When you moved away, then they'd settle down. They didn't want you coming over.
There was a fellow who used to be up in Riverdale park, where the zoo was. He'd be up there every day, and he would stand there and make a whistling noise. The dippers would go right over to him. They liked this noise he used to make. They'd come right up in front of his face. They called him Dipper Bill."
The dippers overlay a story of young Margaret and her family in the summer of 1912 in Toronto. Glimpses give readers the subtext of an absent father, an overworked mother, a sibling stricken with what seems very much like polio, limited financial resources, told, with the backdrop of the community, from a young child's perspective and a young child's knowing.
Like the finest of children's books, it speaks to child and adult alike. The story has poignancy, immediacy and a sense of graciousness in the acceptance of life with both stark realities and rich imaginings. It portrays the reality of unreality just as, at the same time, it presents the converse. Life swings up, swings down, yet keeps progressing: only the marks remain, just like the brace on Louise's leg: she "never seemed to bother too much about it. Once she could get around, she never seemed to take too much notice. She went on the same as usual."
The paralysis, the dippers, the heat - real and unreal - and all experienced.
Now, be warned that the front flap of the dust jacket reveals that "in the City of Toronto Archives, the fragments of a handwritten letter have been discovered" ... and remember that the work is fiction, if you can.
The illustrations, beautifully and warmly rendered, enhance the sense of the time period and evoke feeling inherent in the text. Readers will be just about be able to feel the heat of a hot, humid Ontario summer. A true marriage of "picture" and "book."
Lorrie Andersen is a librarian with The Instructional Resources Unit, Manitoba Education and Training.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
The Manitoba Library Association
TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - OCTOBER 3, 1997.
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