CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 17 . . . . April 26, 2002
Spitfire by Ann Goldring is set in a small Ontario town at the height of World War II, and though life on the home front progresses much as it always has, the collective consciousness of the community is focused on the conflict half a world away. The residents may be removed from the fighting, but they experience the effects of war in other ways. For one thing, there is less of everything sugar, butter, meat, wood, and even money are all hard to come by. People write letters, roll bandages, knit socks, and plant Victory gardens. Everyone fears for someone serving overseas. But despite the hardships and worry, the town's day-to-day activities continue as usual. Men get haircuts, children go to school, women gossip, and the town holds its annual soapbox derby.
This year, however, it is different. This year girls have entered! No one ever said they couldn't, of course, and there is no such rule on the entry form, but everybody knows the derby is just for boys. Until April Flickers, decides to enter the race, that is. And after her, Mary Belle Harper, Betsy and Barbara Barkley, and finally Kathryn Lockhart.
Kathryn doesn't intend to enter she just wants a look at the form to see if girls really can but the next thing she knows, she's filled the thing out, and then she's committed. This is the story of Kathryn's efforts to build and race a soapbox car in the derby. Along the way, she adopts some misfits, and together they prove to the whole town that you can't judge a person by appearances.
Spitfire is a wonderfully refreshing story of a child's unabashed encounter with the world she lives in. Kathryn is likable protagonist with a healthy way of dealing with life. Her dilemmas aren't life threatening; they are life building.
The supporting cast is equally authentic. The Lockhart family is very definitely a family sharing, teasing, helping, and arguing, but always caring. April and Avery Flickers are a family too, though their circumstances are very different, and their problems more trying.
Goldring has done such a marvelous job of establishing time and place that the reader feels like a member of the community. Today's young readers might not pick up on all the allusions and nuances, but that should in no way detract from their enjoyment of the book. Indeed, sharing it with their elders may result in even more fascinating stories.
Butcher lives in Victoria, BC, and writes for children.
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