________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 1 . . . . September 6, 2002

cover Hobo Jungle: Ellen. (Our Canadian Girl).

Dorothy Joan Harris. Illustrated by Ron Lightburn.

Toronto, ON: Penguin Books Canada, 2002.
72 pp., pbk., $7.99.
ISBN 0-14-100270-0.

Subject Heading:
Depression-1929-British Columbia-Vancouver-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

*** /4


"Good morning, ma'am," the man said politely. "Is there some work I could do for you around here? I could sure do with something to eat."

"Oh....well, yes. I guess you could cut the grass," her mother answered. "Ellen will show you where the mower is."

Ellen looked at her mother in surprise. Cutting the grass was usually her job. But she didn't mind getting out of that, so she went outside, to the shed at the back of the yard, and showed the man where the old push-mower was. He thanked her and rolled it out of the shed.

Ellen went back inside.

"His clothes smell," she said to her mother.

"Well, of course they do," answered her mother. "If he's travelling about looking for jobs where could he wash? I'm sure he'd like to be clean. It's not his fault he's out of work."

"And I thought I was supposed to cut the grass today."

"I know you were. But he'll feel better if he does some work for us first. I'd feed him anyway, of course. I just keep thinking how lucky we are that Dad found a job at the factory."

"You mean...if he hadn't, Dad would be wandering around like that?" asked Ellen, horrified.

The Depression and its effects on people are difficult for a 10-year-old to understand. Ellen only knows she isn't happy that her family has to live with Grandpa Sanders now that her father has lost his job, or that she must do without new clothes or a piano. Worst of all, she has no friends in this Vancouver neighbourhood. When an unemployed man, Will, asks to do odd jobs in return for a meal, she befriends him and learns of his family back on the prairies. Ellen discovers firsthand that many are much worse off than she.

     We are given a glimpse into a young girl's view of this period in Canadian history using accessible vocabulary in a short chapter book. The conflict and action are fairly low-key, with no high drama. Tension surfaces briefly in a scene at the hobo camp by the railroad where Ellen goes looking for Will to return a lost photo of his daughter and where she is confronted by a rough-looking man. Having disobeyed her mother by going there, Ellen is dealt the punishment of having no library books to read for a week. Though there are few peaks and valleys in the plot, the characters come to terms with their situations, and the ending is optimistic: "Things will get better....."

     Ellen is a rather meek character, obedient though without enthusiasm at times. She justifies her one significant indiscretion by explaining her wish to find Will before he leaves town. Her mother, the only active authority figure in the story, is distracted by the need to make ends meet. Ellen's father is a background figure, slipping in and out to his demeaning job as a factory cleaner. Will is also a quiet character; Ellen reminds him of his daughter, and, in return for her kindness, he presents her with onion skins to dye her dull dress a brighter colour and a pan pipe for music to cheer her up.

     The book begins with an introduction to the setting and ends with an historical timeline of events that will likely be the subject of further stories in this historical fiction series for independent readers.


Gillian Richardson, a former teacher-librarian and a published children's writer of fiction and nonfiction, lives in BC.

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