CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 6. . . . November 15, 2002
Don't let him have our farm! Elizabeth tugged on her father's sleeve.
We'll need money in Nova Scotia," Papa answered gently.
They stood at the window with Mama, watching the stranger walk up their road, an enormous man with a broad sea captain's hat.
Leaving. The thought made Elizabeth squirm. It felt worse than having to attend Sunday meeting in wet woolen stockings. How much better to rip them off and stay home. If only they could!
But it was too late. Papa was leaving tomorrow morning with the men; she and Mama would follow in June. And here was the sea captain who was interested in buying their farm.
Part of the "Our Canadian Girl" series of historical fiction for younger independent readers, Bless This House deals with an aspect of Acadian history but not from the Acadians' perspective. Needing people to cultivate the lands forcefully taken from the Acadians, the English had sent land agents to the American colonies to recruit "Planters" who would take over the Acadian farms. Among those recruited in 1762 are the members of the Brightman family from Connecticut, who, with other Congregationalist colonists, arrive at Fort Edward in present day Nova Scotia. The family's sole surviving child, Elizabeth, 10, has been reluctant to leave her old home, in part because of a recurring dream in which she sees a strange little house on fire.
The historical Elizabeth shares many of the same concerns that are experienced by today's early adolescents. For example, she does not like to wear certain articles of clothing, she finds church services boring, and, unskilled in craft work, she is intimidated by others around her who are more proficient, especially 12-year-old Sarah Worth. In her new home which Elizabeth recognizes as the structure in her dream. she encounters a mystery when the farm's chickens appear to have stopped laying and the cow has gone dry. The mystery is solved when Elizabeth discovers that both eggs and milk have been taken by a girl, Mathilde LeBlanc, who, with her family and other Acadians, has returned from exile only to be imprisoned by the English who intend to re-deport the Acadians. Elizabeth empathizes with the Acadians' plight and discovers a creative way by which at least some of them will be able to remain. In so doing, Elizabeth experiences the self-realization that her own dislike for Sarah Worth has paralleled the unthinking bias displayed towards the Acadians.
Elizabeth: Bless This House serves as a good introduction to the historical fiction genre, and, as in the best of the genre, the storyline is not bogged down by excessive period detail. James Bentley's interior black and white illustrations are of two types. Each of the book's 10 chapters bears a small illustration which is connected to that chapter's contents. As well, he has done four full page illustrations which, oddly in terms of the book's design, have the caption, a brief passage from the text, printed on the verso. These larger illustrations assist Carter in recreating the time period as they, for example, illustrate the period dress. The book opens with a map of Canada which locates the novel's setting. A two-page "Meet Elizabeth" section then provides a brief historical context for the book's action and the character of Elizabeth Brightman. A concluding Canadian history time line from 1608-1949 also locates where the books in the "Our Canadian Girl" series fit chronologically. For classroom ideas related to this and other books in the "Our Canadian Girl" series, visit the series' website at www.ourcanadiangirl.ca
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and YA literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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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.