CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 1 . . . . September 6, 2002
Everyone knows about escapist literature. That's the sort of book you pick up when your own life is too confused/sad/scary to cope with for the moment, and so you slide into someone else's world where things will work out for the best. Well, Jeremy wasn't all that keen on reading, but he had an escapist stamp album. In the first of these books, a reissue from 1997 now in matching format with its sequel, Jeremy's mother is upset at her grandmother's abrupt physical decline and at Jeremy's lousy performance at school. And when a nine-year-old boy's mother is upset, he's upset too! Moving Great-Granny to a nursing home means that Grandad's album with its collection of Canadian stamps, mostly featuring boats, comes to Jeremy, complete with its own magnifying glass. Examining one of these stamps, Jeremy suddenly finds himself transported back in time to the deck of the Northcote, a steamer on the South Saskatchewan River at the time of the Riel Rebellion. As he experiments with stamps and the magnify glass, he gradually discovers the mechanism by which his transfer to the ship and back again is accomplished. He goes back to the Northcote and later to the Nonsuch as it approaches the shores of Canada en route to establishing the fur-trading empire of the Hudson's Bay Company. His present day problems (and those of his mother) do not disappear merely because he and his great-grandmother manage to have a coherent conversation about stamps in general and the Northcote in particular, and one successful history project does not redeem a year of non-achievement, but both help the general home situation, and the book ends on a definite upbeat. So "up" in fact, that the magnifying glass suddenly ceases to work its magic. Time trips apparently happen only when there is an urgent personal need for escape.
In Ghost Voyages II: The Matthew, Jeremy's life has hit another low. His best friend has gone to Vancouver Island for the whole summer. His mother's worries about money have led her to ask---demand---larger support payments from Jeremy's father who has retaliated by suggesting that he seek custody of Jeremy. It had not been a friendly divorce! Escape time, this time to the Matthew, John Cabot's ship, as it approaches Newfoundland. A surprise awaits Jeremy when he discovers another time traveller on board who turns out to be his own grandfather! The outcome is an ingenious solution to the money problems, a job in a stamp shop for Jeremy, and the possibility of establishing contact with his father.
While the problem-solving ends of this novel may be a bit simplistic, the time-travelling means are definitely exciting and fun. Jeremy is invisible on his travels, but not invulnerable, which makes his fear of being shot or washed overboard quite reasonable. Sea sickness gets him a day and a half off school with "flu," and the hand he cut while invisible still hurts back at home.
The point of a novel is the story, the characters, and the general atmosphere. However, stamp collecting is a rewarding hobby even when it does not result in exciting travel or discovering hidden treasure in or on old envelopes. Jeremy gradually gets interested in it as an activity, and his readers might well begin to think of taking it up. For kids, theme collecting, whether birds, boats, or whatever, might well have more appeal than a more conventional collection, and Jeremy's activities could plant the idea in a receptive mind. Ghost Voyages might be a better way for a grandparent to excite interest in stamps than giving an album and a pair of tongs.
Mary Thomas, who works in two elementary school libraries in Winnipeg, MB, has collected bird, boat and flower stamps for years.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.