My Homework Is in the Mail!
Becky Citra. Illustrations by Karen Harrison.
Richmond Hill, ON: Scholastic Canada Ltd., 1995. 82pp, paper, $4.99.
Grades 2 - 3 / Ages 7 - 8.
Review by Leslie Millar.
Dad said, "This hurricane is our daughter, Samantha. Sam, this is Caleb, our neighbour."
Caleb stood up. He was wearing a big brown hat. His boots had pointy toes. His legs looked like bent pipe cleaners.
Sam had seen pictures of cowboys in books before. But she had never seen a cowboy in her kitchen. She couldn't think of anything to say.
"Caleb's family were some of the first homesteaders in this area," said Mom happily. "He's been telling us some very interesting stories."
My Homework Is in the Mail! is Becky Citra's first book. No doubt her background as a primary school teacher, combined with her hobbies of horseback riding, hiking, and camping, guided her in writing for a young audience.
Samantha Higgins must cope with her parents' decision to take up a rural farm lifestyle. So rural, in fact, that Sam will have to pursue her school work by correspondence. She has to say goodbye to her friends and school in Vancouver and prepare to embrace isolation. It is just before Thanksgiving and Sam's mother wants her to find at least four things to be thankful for. She sincerely believes this will be impossible.
But Sam quickly learns there are things to be thankful for out on the farm. For example, she meets a real cowboy, a wild Canada Goose, some chickens and a horse. She even meets some other children, who after a few false starts, become her friends. By the end of the book she's met the teacher who marks her correspondence work, who is unlike any teacher Sam had ever met before. The number of human contacts is less in the country, but they are correspondingly richer in quality. It appears that Sam may even become one of those kids she's heard about, who love living on a farm.
There is much here to interest young readers. Apprehension about school, moving, and lots of contact with animals will be sure to strike a chord with most youngsters. And the setting will seem exotic for urban school children (if any are like me, they harbour a secret desire to live on a farm); while rurual children will enjoy recognizing aspects of home.
The vocabulary should not prove challenging to the average grade two student. The short sentences and simple metaphors make this an ideal story for independent reading. There are a few black-and-white illustrations interspersed throughout to help the reader's imagination.
My Homework Is in the Mail! is action oriented and flows smoothly and quickly. The tone is upbeat, enthusiastic and positive. Adult readers may find it a bit Pollyanna-ish in tone, but "perfect family'' stories tend to work well with young readers.
Leslie Millar is a substitute teacher and volunteer in Winnipeg schools.
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