The Secret under the Whirlpool

by Elaine B. Hammond,
176 pages,
ISBN: 0921556616

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Children`s Books
by Ruth Osler

Two twelve-year-olds in modern Prince Edward Island go back to the time when it was Ile St Jean, settled by Acadians who were to supply food to the great fort of Louisbourg. Maggie is spending the summer with an elderly aunt because she has no immediate family, and Marc, Acadian by descent, has lost his legs in a car accident and cannot accept his disability. As they are canoeing by the shore, they hear a voice crying: "Où est-ce-que vous êtes?"" They follow it to a cave and are caught up in a whirlpool that sweeps them to 1757. Two children have been lost in the forest and Marc and Maggie are accepted as the missing pair, Marc with two sturdy legs and Maggie as the loved daughter in a large family. As they become a part of the settlement's life, they overcome the unhappiness and dissatisfactions they have brought with them, and their growing affection for their Acadian families teaches them consideration and courage. They know the historical fate of the people of the Ile St Jean but are loath to leave them. Louisbourg falls to the British, and the Acadians are deported to France. They escape to their own time to find Maggie's aunt asleep in the deck-chair where they left her and Marc's father still weeding the garden, though they themselves are much changed.

The hard life of the Acadians which they share is seen in a series of incidents that lead over the two summers and the winter they spend with them: the trapping of a bear, a desperate journey to a nearby settlement for medical help, the plague of mice that eats up the crops, a dance, Christmas. You see the pioneer virtues of hardihood, courage, and tenacity, but there is not much room for more than a suggestion of characterization, or for much humour. In fact, despite careful plotting, the author nearly puts too much into her book and in the end has to skim over the winter her characters have so diligently prepared for. This is a sturdy and solemn little book; the Acadians I know are lively and full of fun. I wish she could have managed a bit of that.

The title and jacket illustration suggest a much lighter story than this, with magic and mystery. A little of both are present in her portrayal of the Mi'kmaqs. In the main, however, young readers will be misled and that would be a shame, for this is excellent-quality historical fiction. It is a treat to have a promising new book on Prince Edward Island and especially one on the Acadian people. 

Ruth Osler was head of children's services for the Toronto Public Library System. She is now retired.


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