________________ CM . . . . Volume V Number 7 . . . . November 27, 1998

cover Prairie Fire!

Bill Freeman.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 1998.
196 pp, cloth and paper
ISBN 1-55028-609-9 ($16.95), 1-55028-608-0 ($8.95).

Subject Headings:
Frontier and pioneer life-Manitoba-Juvenile fiction.
Métis-Juvenile fiction.
Manitoba-History-1870-1918-Juvenile fiction.
Racism-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5 - 8 / Ages 10 - 13.
Review by Betsy Fraser.

*** /4


"All over the world groups of people hate other groups of people for no other reason than they are different, or they think they are a threat, or maybe it's just that they have been taught to hate them. What you did was right, Jamie. We have to accept people and their differences, but what if our little community of families here on the prairie is divided over this, or we grow to hate each other? What will happen then?"
In this, the seventh book about the Bains family, the family homesteads near Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, in 1876, a few years after the Riel rebellion. Peggy Bains, the widowed head of the Bains family, applies to become a homesteader and heads off with her children: Meg, Jamie, Kate and Robbie. Manitoba is a powder keg: the Métis are losing their traditional way of life and English settlers are moving in. Each group is predisposed to hate the other, leaving the Bains in the middle. As relationships deteriorate, forcing everyone to take sides, a natural disaster occurs. Will the two sides be able to work together?

      Bill Freeman has created a lively group of characters as a way to teach young readers about a difficult and poorly known chapter of Canadian history. Time is spent not only on the racial unrest of the times but also on examining the minutiae of prairie life and homesteading. The details are exact and take up a good deal of the book, making it an exacting and initially very slow-moving read. The historical details, together with the daily life of the Bains as they make a home for themselves on the bare Manitoba prairie, help bring young readers a sense of the difficulties faced and would make the book a good accompaniment to a module about homesteading or early life on the Prairies. As the Bains' routine becomes more manageable, the subplot of racial relations speeds up. This leads to a rousing and satisfactory conclusion while opening new storylines for the next book in the series.


Betsy Fraser is a librarian with Calgary Public Library, Calgary, Alberta.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364