CM . . . .
Volume V Number 20 . . . . June 4, 1999
Although I chiefly write longer fiction, I have also written many poems and short stories. I write one whenever I am seized by an idea which, to my mind, does not call for expansion into a novel. Sometimes it springs from a small incident in my own life, sometimes from a question which I need to answer, occasionally from somebody else requesting or, perhaps, challenging me to write something. Usually, although not always, the core of the story takes place within one or two days. I step into the lives of my characters, live with them while they work something out or see something differently, and then I step back out, leaving them to go on with their lives. Author Katherine Paterson told me once she believes that in a good story, "Something has to happen and somebody has to change." I think that in my short stories I often seek to explore what prompts change and capture the moment when change takes place. [Taken from the "Preface"]As indicated in Jean Little's "Preface," this collection of short stories and poems explores how children survive sudden change and unexpected loss. The title, taken from the nursery rhyme, refers to the dilemma facing the robin when the cold wind blows, and thus it is appropriate for a collection about children encountering their own dilemmas during the cold Canadian months. While subtitled Winter Tales, Little has actually included fall and the beginning of spring. The seven chapters are arranged by months from September to March, and each story is sandwiched between two poems. The stories and poems, some of which were previously published, were written over several years and revised for this collection.
Jean Little's admiration for the resilience of children is evident in these offerings. Some, such as Dinah relinquishing the puppy Tizzy to the Seeing Eye trainers or the neglected children in the title story, are heart-bracingly poignant. Others, such as the city boys adapting to their move to the country or Mick adapting to his step-family, are somewhat contrived and gently didactic. In all selections, however, Little provides hopeful futures for the children affected by personal crises. Many of the selections are strongly rooted in Little's own religious beliefs. This is particularly true of the December choices, as many of them have a Christmas theme, but also in "Night of the Next Straw" which is filled with religious references and whose turning point revolves around a Christian hymn.
Little's poems appear to be written for a mixed audience of children and adults. While the poem "Apples" pokes fun at basal workbooks and can be appreciated by both audiences, and "Rain" details a child's delight in a sudden shower, others speak less to children. "Triolets for Patsy," about the enduring love between sisters over the years, and "Lady," a homage to her father, are decidedly adult in concept and comprehension. Altogether, this is an unbalanced collection of writing that will only appeal to a limited audience. Due to the inspirational nature of many of the pieces included, this collection could be used in religious education or Sunday school classes.
Recommended with Reservations.
Alison Mews is the Coordinator of the Curriculum Materials Centre, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NF.
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