________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 12. . . . February 14, 2003

cover A Ribbon of Shining Steel: The Railway Diary of Kate Cameron. (Dear Canada).

Julie Lawson.
Markham, ON: Scholastic Books, 2002.
204 pp., cloth, $14.99.
ISBN 0-439-98848-9.

Subject Headings:
Railroads-British Columbia-History-19th century-Juvenile fiction.
Canadian Pacific Railway Company-History-19th century-Juvenile fiction.
Frontier and pioneer life-British Columbia-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Sylvia Pantaleo.

***1/2 /4

Twelve-year-old Kate Cameron's diary begins on August 28, 1882. She lives in Yale, British Columbia, and her diary documents the events in a year of her life. Kate was born in Toronto and lived in Ottawa for several years before her father accepted a position with the Canadian Pacific Railway. As an engineer, he oversees the building of several railway bridges being constructed throughout the Fraser Canyon.

     Kate's adventurous, courageous and spunky character is revealed through her diary entries. The strong voice in the narratives gives readers the impression that Kate is speaking directly to them. At the beginning of the novel, readers learn that Kate has eavesdropped on one of her parents' conversations and believes that they plan to send her to a girls' finishing school in Victoria.

Friday, September 1, 8 P.M.

I could spit nails. Serves me right, listening at doors, but Hell's Gate, hearing the words Kate, wild, college and lady - all in the same sentence - compelled me to listen. Now the cat is out of the bag. My parents are plotting to send me away to VICTORIA. To a school for Anglican girls called Angela College where they trust I will learn the necessary Social Graces. Necessary for what? Blasts and brimstones! I wanted to storm into the parlour and bellow, "Yale has social graces! Why can't I stay here?"

     She pledges to improve her conduct and character, but readers witness her struggle to be a "proper lady" as Kate recounts personal events, as well as her involvement in communal activities and issues. She deals with several challenges in her friendships as her best friend moves to Victoria to attend school, and she has numerous disagreements with a new friend (partly due to Kate's willful and impetuous nature). Other personal events recounted in the diary include suffering from the whooping cough for two weeks, traveling to New Westminister by steamer in order to have a tooth removed, learning about "womanhood" from her mother, celebrating her 13th birthday, visiting with her friends, getting a dog, camping with her brothers, rescuing a girl from a fire, and working at the local paper periodically. Kate has ambitions to be a reporter when she grows up, and on several occasions she works for Mr. Hagan who runs the Sentinel. Throughout the diary entries, Kate voices her anxieties about the safety of her father, as there are many construction accidents. Another topic of concern visited several times in her diary entries is the racist and inequitable treatment of the Chinese railway workers. An epilogue includes information about Kate and her family, and readers learn that Kate continued to be an adventurous individual into adulthood!

     Lawson has thoroughly researched the building of the CPR through the Fraser Canyon. Further, the entries in Kate's diary provide readers with a vivid portrait of life in the late 1800s in this particular area of British Columbia. Indeed, the diary entries include references to actual people and events of the era, and Lawson effortlessly weaves "fact" into Kate's fictional narratives. Finally, the "Historical Note" section includes further background about the building of the transcontinental railway in Canada. Reprints of photographs and paintings add further historical detail.

Highly Recommended.

Sylvia Pantaleo teaches language arts courses at the Faculty of Education, the University of Victoria, Victoria, BC.


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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364