Canadian history is hot stuff these days and a number of publishers have produced some great books that open a window on some part of our past with explorations of Canadian greats in the fields of sports and medicine, Canada's role in World War I and Canadian "First" being among the topics explored. Two of the recent crop present fictionalized accounts of real Canadiansłone a well-know heroine, and the other a less well-known doctor who was a hero in his own quiet way.
In Laura Secord: A Story of Courage, Janet Lunn gives us a gripping account of Laura's celebrated journey to warn the British commander of an American attack. Laura was a shy but strong pioneer woman, living in the Niagara area during the war of 1812. When she overheard some American soldiers talking about a surprise attack, she knew that someone must warn the commander. With neither her husband nor nephews able to make the treacherous trek, she set out with her niece through Indian territory, swamp and forest, constantly on the lookout for American soldiers. She left her niece at a friend's house partway along the journey and continued on alone. Laura arrived at British headquarters exhausted, dishevelled and hungry, but her brave actions kept the Americans from winning the war. Lunn's description of this harrowing journey is simple and straightforward and full of suspense.
Laura's character shines through and gives us a feeling for the people of that time, people who were stalwart, hardworking and loyal. The book's tale of times past is reflected in the artwork and traditional design. A full page of text is followed by a full-page illustration, and the pictures are done in a bright folk-art style. The illustrations add to the sense of action and the urgency of Laura's mission. Although the book provides some details about her life (including a useful epilogue), its focus is her daring mission. This is a story that all Canadian children should know and Lunn tells this tale in a very attractive and readable book.
Anyone living in the Peterborough area of Ontario may be familiar with John Hutchison, a country doctor who served his patients faithfully during the mid-1800s. The narrator of House Calls: The True Story of a Pioneer Doctor is a fictional patient of the good doctor, a young girl who, after recovering from consumption, helps him on his rounds and vows to be a doctor herself one day. We accompany them as they travel by horse and buggy through the rural landscape to visit with an old man for his annual bleeding and a family so wracked with ague that they are unable to feed or care for themselves. When John must move away because their house is too small for his growing family, the community pulls together and builds them a big new house. Doctors back then had little money, taking most of their payment with food or the occasional chicken, a fact that will no doubt surprise many children today. The house, nicknamed the Bonfire House, is now the Hutchison House museum. Artist Mary Jane Gerber evokes the past through simple sepia-toned drawings, in contrast to the lively and colourful art of Lunn's book. But in both cases, the illustrations provide just the right complement to the story. Thebook includes sidebars where we learn of diseases and medical practices of the time. The author is the great-great granddaughter of this heroic man and she writes a loving portrait of him and his family. Her book will provide young readers with an interesting, colourful, and sometimes disturbing, view of what life was really like for the early pioneers.
Mary Anne Cree is the Junior School Librarian at The Bishop Strachan School in Toronto and a partner in MaryContrary Associates.