The Stonehook Schooner.
Written and illustrated by Judith Christine Mills.
Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1995. 28pp, paper, $14.95.
Grades 2 - 4 / Ages 7 - 9.
Review by Leslie Millar.
Matthew's father quickly ran up the storm jib so he could steer. He
pulled on the wheel as hard as he could, but the wind and waves were too
strong. The Hannah Mary rolled and pitched in the thick, dark soup
of sky and water.
The rocks on the deck rolled from side to side, slamming against the
wooden hull. Matthew's father shouted, "Stay close to me! We'll have to
ride it out."
Judith Christine Mills has created a lovely first book with The
Stonehook Schooner. She is an artist who makes her home in
Montreal, and has shown her paintings and sculptures galleries across
Canada and the United States.
The Stonehook Schooner is a brief, historical fiction
about Matthew, a boy who longs to go stonehooking with his father.
stonehooking was the practise of gathering chunks of shale, sand, and
gravel from coves around Lake Ontario and transporting them to bigger
cities for building supplies. By the early 1900s, sophisticated inland
quarrying and the introduction of concrete as a building material
effectively ended the stonehooking trade.
Matthew's father, realizing his stonehooking days are numbered,
relents one day and brings Matthew along. They are caught in a storm and
Matthew proves his sea-worth by helping to safely navigate the schooner
back to port.
Judith Mills has written a touching, but not sentimental story that
combines a coming-of-age story in an imaginative and adventurous setting
with historical and cultural details -- all against a background of
The writing is for the most part clear, though sometimes the
text could more aptly describe the illustrations (specifically, where
Matthew is "squeezed into" the bow when he has really climbed out onto
the bowsprit). When the storm blows up, it is unclear why Matthew and his
father were on the boat alone, when the previous page showed the crew on
board and the text stated that the hold was full.
Mills's large, subtly coloured illustrations effectively convey the
great scale of the boat and the strength of the men who form its crew.
She also captures the frightful hugeness of lake and sky. The storm
illustrations are particularly delightful.
The historical note at the end of the book helps give context to the
story. A glossary of nautical terms used in the book would also have been
useful to teachers and students.
In all, The Stonehook Schooner proved to be a most
enjoyable history lesson for this reader. It is the sort of book that can
be read and appreciated for the literary value or illustrations alone,
but could also be tied in with other subject areas such as social studies
Leslie Millar is a substitute teacher and volunteer in Winnipeg
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Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association.
Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice
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