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Volume VIII Number 12 . . . . February 15, 2002
Irene Morck, in her introduction to Apples and Angel Ladders: A Collection of Pioneer Christmas Stories, writes: "For many pioneer settlers in North America, Christmas was a time to honour their heritage, both spiritual and cultural. During those long and often bleak winters, Christmas brought families and their communities together. The festivities gave pioneers a chance, for even a little while, to forget their hardships and concentrate on beauty and meaning." The six stories in Apples and Angel Ladders are drawn from adventures of the writer's father, Archie Morck, as he grew up in Dickson Alberta, a Danish pioneer community in central Alberta. An earlier collection of pioneer stories based on Morck's father's memoirs, entitled Five Pennies: A Prairie Boy's Story, was published in 1999. That volume was originally written for an adult audience, but, as the author notes with delight, it is often used by teachers in social studies classes focusing on pioneer life. The Christmas collection, Apples and Angel Ladders, however, was written especially for children, although Morck hopes that "...adults of all ages will find much to enjoy in its pages."
Noted artist Muriel Wood, whose illustrations of Margaret Lawrence's The Olden Days' Coat earned her a place in the Museum of Illustration in New York, has created eleven carefully detailed paintings which recall the life of homesteaders in the early part of this century. The gently nostalgic tone of Wood's illustrations helps the reader to imagine the hardships and simple joys of pioneer life in the Christmas season. Unfortunately, though Apples and Angel Ladders, with its 11 colour plates, black and white drawings throughout, attractive endpapers and a ribbon marker is a visually beautiful book, the half dozen stories making it up are less satisfying. The author's prosaic writing style, as well as the generally slow pace and lack of drama which characterize each selection, will not likely engender much excitement among young readers. Helping Mama make Danish cookies ("Pebbernodders"), saving the family dog from being put down as a turkey killer and trapping badgers to raise money for school books are some highlights from the pieces in Apples and Angel Ladders. A recipe for Pebbernodders and instructions on making angel ladders are found at the end of the volume.
Adults (particularly those with a Danish background) will enjoy Morck's recreation of Danish pioneer life in Canada, and may infuse the stories with a degree of liveliness based on their experience. Some teachers may find this collection a useful resource for their units on pioneer life in Canada; however Apples and Angel Ladders will not prove as reader-friendly as many of the recently-published picture books on the same theme. Elementary school librarians may wish to add this book to their collection of Christmas books (of which there never seems to be enough!).Recommended with reservations.
Valerie Nielsen is a retired teacher-librarian who lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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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.