CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 13 . . . . February 28, 2003
Rachel: The Maybe House. (Our Canadian
Toronto, ON: Penguin Canada, 2002.
83 pp., pbk., $7.99.
Black Canadians-Nova Scotia-Shelbourne-History-18th century.
4-6 / Ages 9-11.
by Harriet Zaidman.
"You a free
Nigra?" asked the woman, her eyes narrowing and her voice becoming
even more clipped. "You nobody's slave?"
serve you this time, because there's no one in the store, but I
don't want you coming in here again and bothering my customers.
Rachel knew she'd
been cheated. Her heart trembled within her at the thought of the
precious tuppence, which could have bought a deal of fine things
but was now lost forever. "Please'um," she began politely.
hear me the first time? Get out of here with your Nigra ways. I
don't need you dirtying my shop"
It was useless
The Maybe House, Rachel is the daughter of a former slave. It
is 1784, after the American War of Independence. The family lives
in Birchtown, Nova Scotia, the Negro Loyalist settlement. Blacks looked
to Canada as a refuge from slavery but suffered tremendous discrimination
at the hands of the British colonists. The British promised the blacks
land titles but gave no indication as to when these pledges would
be fulfilled. Scarce supplies were mostly directed to the whites,
and the poverty-stricken families had no houses. Many blacks were
forced to inhabit pits dug into the ground, lined with stones and
covered with a board. These pit houses had sloped roofs to keep water
away, but nothing could keep out heavy rain or the cold of winter
that seeped through the earth. Rachel's family has already lived through
one winter in the mud of a pit house. She longs for a real house,
which, to her delight, becomes a reality when her stepfather, Titan,
builds one in a squatters' area near Shelburne. The one-room house
is a palace for Rachel and her family. They try to be happy. Rachel
has to help out at home but finds time to be a child herself, telling
stories and playing with Ann-Marie, a young Micmac girl who also bears
the brunt of racism. Rachel struggles to learn how to read. To her
surprise, a white boy who has been antagonistic to Rachel because
of her colour becomes her teacher and sheds much of his arrogant attitude.
But trouble is brewing. The end of the war has brought delisted British
soldiers who are looking for work into Shelburne. Because the blacks
had been willing to work for one quarter the wages of the whites,
there is great resentment and tension. The hostility of the former
soldiers grows, resulting in a riot in July 1784. The meager houses
of the black squatters are deliberately destroyed, forcing them back
to Birchtown and the pit houses. The fairy tale ending Rachel had
hoped for does not occur. She does not give up hope entirely; maybe
there will be a house and education in her future.
Kositisky has created fairly representative characters in a short
novel. Titan wants to be treated like a man, Rachel's mother wants
to keep her family safe, and Rachel wants to be a child free to play
and learn. The characters do their best as they face their difficulties
together. Kositsky has captured a teachable moment in history in just
83 pages. She includes the good relations between the blacks and Micmacs,
the slavery that existed in Canada as Loyalist whites came to Canada
from the American colonies, the starvation that occurred in the colony
because of the increased population and the difficult life the blacks
faced in their new land. Ann-Marie's character is the weakest; she
is not enough of a presence in the story for her personality to develop.
When conditions failed to improve about 1000 of the 1500 blacks who
came to Canada as Loyalists left in 1792 and sailed to Sierra Leone.
history is brought to life for today's young readers with the “Our
Canadian Girl” series published by Penguin Canada. The series
focuses on the lives of typical girls, rather than the lives of the
decision-makers. Readers can learn about how ordinary people survived
the difficulties of poverty, disruption and discrimination. Little
known events, such as the settlement of blacks in Nova Scotia, are
illuminated. The “Our Canadian Girl” series is sure to
be a hit with young readers, especially girls. The companion website
is also written in language appropriate to the target age group and
is easy to navigate. Related recipes or craft activities mentioned
in the books are available to download, as are sample chapters of
many of the books and teaching suggestions. Readers will admire Rachel's
strengths and be all the more educated as they read Rachel: The
Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in the Louis Riel School Division in
on this title or this review, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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