Sarah & the People of Sand River

by W. D. Valgardson,
ISBN: 0888992556

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Children`s Books
by Jeffrey Canton

This is a poignant story of a world now lost, which draws on W. D. Valgardson's own family's history-the book is dedicated to his grandparents-as he evokes the world of Icelandic immigrants struggling to forge a life for themselves in Canada in the 1870s.

Sarah is twelve and her father is taking her to Winnipeg so she can go to school, learn to speak proper English and be a lady. He is taking her away from her dog, the horse she looks after, and Loki, the raven. Most importantly, he is taking her away from the Lake Winnipeg community that her parents and her grandparents have helped to build.

But Mrs. Simpson, the "large, square woman with a loud voice and big red arms that she crossed in front of her," in whose care Sarah is left, has absolutely no intention of sending her to school and turns her into a household drudge. Sarah doesn't know how she is ever going to escape; she is all alone-or is she? A raven-just like her raven Loki-seems to be watching over her. And when a mysterious Native woman presents her with a pair of deerskin gloves and a Native man gives her a pair of deerskin moccasins, she gathers up all her courage and runs away.

Valgardson is a master story-teller-his first picture-book, Thor, won the Mr. Christie's Book Award for 1995-and this is a story suffused with emotion. But what adds a richness that words can't convey are the magnificent illustrations by Ian Wallace. He has meticulously re-created the nineteenth-century world that Valgardson writes about-the wallpaper, the oil lamps, the clothing-and gone a step further. Not only has Wallace evoked the nuances in the story, but the muted colours of his exquisite watercolours-browns, soft yellows, and sky blues-and the soft gentle lines he uses take you into another realm of the imagination. A wonderful picture-book for older children, Sarah is a book that you can get lost in again and again.

Jeffrey Canton is program co-ordinator for the Canadian Children's Book Centre in Toronto and reviews books for adults and children on CBC's Fresh Air.


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