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Volume VIII Number 10 . . . . January 18, 2002
Meet Mary Bergen. Her parents once lived in town in a house with modern conveniences. Now the family lives in a house built by Mary's father, one that has no running water, electricity or telephone. The farming family's nearest neighbours are about two miles away. Once Mary's hardworking father has finished clearing the trees on the land, the government will give him the deed to the land. Mary has four other siblings with the fifth on its way. The Bergen children have many chores to complete around the house and barn in the morning and after school.
All day, Mary wonders, "What can happen today?" Nothing special happens at school, but on the way home, Mr. Bergen swerves to avoid a collision and his truck slips off the road. While he jacks up the truck to put chains on the rear tires, Mary finds a small pup, part wolf and part dog. Mary asks to keep the pup as a pet, but her father is adamant: "You know the rules. Our animals must work for us, or give us food." Mary reluctantly takes the pup off into the woods, but it appears on the Bergen's doorstep at dinner time. Mr. Bergen is angry and directs Mary to take the pup far off into the woods so that it will not return.
Although Mary understands her father's position, she is saddened that she is not allowed to keep the pup. Later that same evening when everyone is asleep, a coyote creeps out of the woods to visit the Bergen's henhouse. A sudden shrill screech wakens everyone in the house. Mr. Bergen hurries outside into the frigid night, and he is able to scare off the coyote with his gun. As he is about to return to the house, Mr. Bergen sees the wolf pup at his feet and realizes that it was the small canine that warned the family about the coyote. He scoops up the little fellow in his arms, takes it into the house, and places it on Mary's bed. Something special indeed has happened to Mary this day!
The thirtieth-anniversary edition of this endearing story, with its simple storytelling, strong sense of place, and messages about the human condition, is indeed an enduring Canadian classic. In 1971, Ann Blades was a teacher in Mile 18, now called Buick, and she originally wrote the story for her own students because of the lack of books that reflected the lives of her students. The beautifully-told story resonates with authenticity and sincerity. Not only was the art from the book exhibited at the Vancouver Art Gallery, but Mary of Mile 18 was voted Book of the Year for Children by the Canadian Library Association in 1972.
The commemorative edition includes a larger format and the use of glossy paper. There is a new font for the text, and the text is centered on each page, with black lines bordering the top and bottom of the narrative. Each page of text has two light grey snowflakes placed in varying places on the verso. Compared to the original version, the watercolour illustrations on each recto are more brilliant in colour and are bordered in blue.
Sylvia Pantaleo is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in children's literature and all areas of the language arts.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.