________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 5 . . . . November 2, 2001

cover Rachel: A Mighty Big Imagining. (Our Canadian Girl).

Lynne Kositsky.
Toronto, ON: Penguin Books, 2001.
64 pp., pbk., $7.99.
ISBN 0-14-100252-2.

Subject Headings:
Freedmen-Nova Scotia-Juvenile fiction.
Slavery-Emancipation-Juvenile fiction

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4


"Sukey and Rachel Sparrow, free Nigras in Nova Scotia," Mamma whispered as they climbed below. She'd let go of Rachel at last."I jus' love the sound of that. Here's your blanket, girl. Gird it round you to stop your shiverin', and never mind the holes."

Rachel nodded. Free Nigras. She didn't even know what that meant. No massa to yell at her, perhaps. And no missus to pull her hair. If she were really lucky, there might even be enough to eat. She thought of all the food on the missus' table in Charlestown and imagined herself stuffing it into her own hungry mouth. That was a mighty big imagining, and she sighed at the effort, pulling her threadbare blanket round her. It was awfully cold up here.

Rachel and her pregnant mother, Sukey, are en route to a free life in Nova Scotia! With Titan, Rachel's stepfather, they had escaped from their "patriot" landowner during the American War of Independence and worked for the British soldiers in exchange for a promise of freedom and transport to land of their own. It is, however, late autumn; the land will not be granted until spring, and, in the meantime, their "house" in Birchtown, N.S., is a three-coffin-sized, three-foot-deep hole in the ground, with a bit of superstructure and a roof, situated just around the bay from the white community of Shelburne where Titan can get work building other people's houses for eightpence a day. It's cold, and it gets colder. Sukey has her baby. That makes four of them in their hole in the ground, and both mother and baby get sick. Luckily, Rachel is befriended by an Indian girl who not only gives her moccasins and whose mother cures the coughs of the two sick ones, but she listens to her story, the only thing Rachel has to give in return for all her kindness. By winter's end, Rachel has determined that freedom may be costly, but never will she return to being owned again, and, what's more, she is going to learn to read and write. After all, she is free!

     Freedom is the theme of this story. The picture facing the opening chapter is of the handbill offering a reward for the return of the family: ten pounds for Titan, five for Sukey and three for Rachel. Not that any of them could have read it - it was against the law to teach slaves to read or write. In her first winter, Rachel discovers that freedom consists not only of being able to think of learning such things, but in knowing her worth and that it is not impossible for a "Nigra" to be smarter than a white. Rachel has learned a lot in that time, and we have learned with her. The story carries the reader along and is written at a level that children wanting to move from picture books to chapter books should be able to manage on their own. The illustrations are black-and-white, but very appealing, and presumably by Ron Lightburn, although he gets credit only for the picture on the cover. There have been several books written on the Underground Railway and the escape of slaves in the nineteenth century; it is good to learn that Canada was a refuge long before that.


Mary Thomas works in two elementary school libraries in Winnipeg, MB, and is pleased that historical fiction is having a bit of a renaissance in children's literature.

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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364