CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 10. . . . January, 2003
"You're not afraid of anything. You go all alone into the woods and stay there for hours, drawing flowers and birds."
Mama laughed. "Do you know what my brothers and sisters called me when I was a little girl like you?"
"Cowardly-custard Catharine. And I lived in a sleepy little village in Suffolk, not in the Canadian woods where there really are dangerous things if you aren't careful. My big brother Sam used to chase me with snakes, not just put them in my pocket. My sister Agnes would tell me ghost stories after supper. Then she and Sam would hide under my bed, shaking it and moaning."
Sarah felt a little better. Maybe she would be as brave as Mama when she grew up. But is seemed a long time to wait.
Ten-year-old Sarah struggles to come to terms with her fears, but she finds the task very difficult. Despite the teasing from her siblings, she has good reason to be fearful. Sarah lives in an environment where life is, indeed, more threatening. Sarah, her parents, and four siblings live in the woods of Upper Canada in 1836 as pioneers. Her family is fairly isolated, and much of their human interaction comes from the local Ojibwa tribe. With the advice of her mother and the understanding of her Ojibwa friend, Bright Fire, Sarah begins to conquer and rationalize her fears.
The book includes numerous full colour illustrations by Muriel Wood. The facial expressions of some of the characters are somewhat interesting in that they do not always seem to reflect the thoughts and emotions of the characters. For example, when Sarah's brother, Tom, hides a toad in a box that Sarah opens, she screams with fright and begins to cry. Wood's depiction of the event, however, shows Sarah with a smile!
Scared Sarah is part of the "New Beginnings" series which uses an illustrated chapter book format to convey historical facts about Canada. Although the back cover boasts of a work that includes well researched information, the book's appeal is likely to rest primarily with teachers. The book begins on shaky ground because the text seems forced and the dialogue seems phony. This situation is likely due to Downie's agenda to cram in historical facts. The text does relax as the story progresses, but the critical opportunity for drawing in readers has been lost by the time this occurs. This work clearly exists with an instructional purpose. It is doubtful that a young reader would select this item as a novel.
Recommended with reservations.
Christina Neigel is the Instruction Librarian for the University College of the Cariboo in Kamloops, BC.
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