________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 12 . . . . February 15, 2002

cover The Runaway.

Bernice Thurman Hunter.
Markham., ON: Scholastic Canada, 2001.
165 pp., pbk., $5.99.
ISBN 0-439-98895-0.

Subject Headings:
Orphans-England-Juvenile fiction.
Runaway children-Juvenile fiction.
Great Britain-History-20th century-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Mary Thomas.

** /4


"Graham Robbertson!" Mother Button's sharp tongue stopped him in his tracks.

"Yes, Mother?" Mother Button wasn't really his mother but that's what she liked the boys to call her.

"You nicked my sweet coupons." It was 1946 and the war was over, but sweets were still rationed in England. ... "What did you do with them?" she demanded.

"Nothing. I didn't steal nothing." He didn't know what she was talking about.

"Don't lie to me, Graham Robbertson. You were seen taking them."

"Who seen me? Whoever said that is a bloomin' liar."

"Mind your tongue, young man." She thumped the lid back on the empty box.

.."Off you go to school now. And it's straight to bed for you tonight with no supper."...

Angry and frustrated, Graham scuffed his way to school. Whoever had lied about him had got him in real trouble this time....All afternoon Graham worried. The headmaster, Mr. Prentice, who was teaching them history that day, whacked the pointer over his knuckles twice to get his attention. Rubbing his sore knuckles Graham made up his mind what he was going to do. He decided to run away from home.

All Graham knows of his roots are his name---Neill Graham Robbertson with two "b"s---his date of birth---June 2nd, 1935---and that his mother had left him at the Home for Unwanteds when he was three weeks old. On his birth certificate there was also an address in Islington. It is not a lot, but it's enough to keep him running away from his foster home in Bury St. Edmunds to try to find his real mother. As might be expected of a search strategy that consisted of asking friendly looking women of about the right age if their name was "Mariette Robbertson with two bs," he didn't succeed, but, as he promised one of his mates at Mother Button's home, he doesn't give up, and, finally when he is well into middle age, he gets an answer to an ad in the personal column of the Times and finds his sister.

     Graham's life may have been molded by his wish for a family and a past as well as a present and future, but, on the whole, it sounds as if he had a pretty good life. His foster mother was kind; as Graham said she "only whacks us when we deserve it." And Greystone School for Homeless Boys, where he was sent after once again being falsely accused of stealing, taught him "fair play and honesty," as well as giving him enough education to enable him to become a successful businessman. Despite the school's unfortunate name, it also seems to have fed the boys well! There are a lot of descriptions of meals in the book that don't quite tie in with other accounts of eating in post-war Britain. It is somewhat surprising that no one took his need to find his family seriously, but the times were not propitious for researching one's roots. A good many records had been bombed into oblivion or were in a state of disorganization through having been moved. Besides, at that point in time, "searching for one's roots" was not quite as fashionable as it is now.

     As a story, this one has more archival value than gripping narrative. The illustrations are black-and-white, but mostly grey, photographs, and the whole tone is one of somewhat worthy authenticity. Even Graham's unfortunate tendency to fart when hungry doesn't have the humour that bathroom references sometimes have; it merely results in the nickname Stinker. That this characteristic turns up in Graham's young nephew, when he finally finds his extended family, is an anecdotal bit of confirmation that he has indeed found "his" family. Certainly it is not a trait that would be either faked or boasted of!

Recommended with reservations.

Mary Thomas works in two elementary schools in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364