Monday, November 28, 2011

Oh Boy, Canada: Three Great Reads

by Hugh Brewster
Scholastic Canada (September 2011)
Ages 9-12

This recent release of I Am Canada tells the fictionalized account of a fourteen year old boy, Jamie Laidlaw, who travels with his parents on the Titanic's maiden (and well, let's face it, final) voyage. It's rich with detail, but not one bit pedantic or boring as Jamie recounts his excitement and wonder at seeing the ship for the first time, and being a curious boy, it's through his eyes that much of what's known about the real life passengers and their lifestyle aboard ship is conveyed. Jamie's father is a banker whose trip is courtesy of the Imperial Bank, a benefit that positions Jamie in the midst of first class luxury.

While his parents hobnob with power brokers of the time, Jamie befriends another boy and off they go exploring, giving the reader a top notch tour mixed with little dramas to personalize the story (Jamie's dog is in the kennels, his friend's pet rat gets loose). Of course, the reader knows what's coming, but that knowledge doesn't diminish the suspense one bit. Once the ship hit the iceberg and people are told to go above out of caution, I could not put the book down. Brewster relates the details of those hours— the mounting confusion and Jamie's dawning awareness of the trouble they're in—to maximum effect. I've always had a fear of ships at night (having been passenger on one and employee on another), and reading this just about gave me flop sweat. The chronicling of the lifeboat shortage is pretty disturbing, knowing that half the passengers are doomed, but witnessing it through the eyes of a boy who's only just beginning to understand this heightens the horror even more.

I could go on and on, but I don't want to give away the ending. If readers who love adventure based on real life can get their hands on Deadly Voyage, I don't think they will be disappointed.

by Sarah Ellis
Scholastic Canada (September 2011)
Ages 9-12

That Fatal Night takes a different kind of dramatic approach to the Titanic saga. Instead of telling about her story of survival, twelve year old Dorothy Wilton's diary avoids talking about what happened when she traveled alone (with an escort) aboard the doomed ship. It's the avoidance, with haunting clues (needing to have her shoes by her at night, the obsessive desire for neatness), that creates the dramatic tension in this fictionalized account.

Dorothy talks around the tragedy—writing in her diary that she will record everything but that event. Instead, she focuses on the good times she had visiting her grandparents in England and the days after her return. These accounts are incredibly well done, with Dorothy inventing a script to describe scenes that shed light on her internal struggles (she plays the rold of CG—Canadian Girl, other cast members include her grandparents, cousins and the dog).

It's clear that she carries guilt about something related to Miss Pugh, the woman who accompanied Dorothy on the voyage but didn't survive. There's enough anticipation created through this device of avoidance to pull the reader along, with revelations that are both heartening and heartrending. I could say that girls will love this book, but I'd like to think that boys would pick it up, too.

by John Wilson
Scholastic Canada (February 2011)
Ages 9-12

Here's a revolting little fact about World War I that was news to me (granted, much of WWI is news to me, overshadowed as it is by part II): Deserters from several countries were court marshalled and shot, Canada included.  Shot at Dawn is the fictionalized account of one whose been arrested and is awaiting dawn where he expects to be executed, a young soldier by the name of Allan McBride.

There's not much I can say about the details of this account that won't be utterly disturbing—the appalling conditions under which they fought, the brutal treatment of the army's own soldiers to keep them from deserting, not to mention the horrors on the battlefield and all the ways a body and mind can be destroyed. The most compelling, in this case, is the mental stress and trauma that unravels so many soldiers. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is a condition that's recognized and treated today, but back then it was just not understood. In Shot at Dawn, Allan interprets the behavior of his commanding officer (and friend from back home) as cowardice. It's only later that Allan's account takes us right into the mind of someone who's broken by the wickedness of war.

There is no glamorization of war going on here, and the futility of it rings loud and clear. For young readers of war history, this book is well worth the journey.

Source: Review copies provided by the publisher

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