________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 8 . . . . December 14, 2001

cover Marie-Claire: Dark Spring. (Our Canadian Girl.)

Kathy Stinson.
Toronto, ON: Penguin Books, 2001.
75 pp., pbk., $7.99.
ISBN 0-14-100328-6.

Subject Headings:
Montreal (Quebec)-History-Juvenile fiction.
Death-Juvenile fiction.
Smallpox-Juvenile fiction.
Family-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Kristin Butcher.

*** /4


Day by day, as summer approached, the smell in the streets got worse. Barrels of manure overflowed into big puddles in laneways. Dead rats sprawled among rotting heaps of vegetable scraps, fish, eggs, and bones. One morning, between her home and the market, Marie-Claire counted six of them - and two dead pigs so disgustingly decayed that they must have been drowned in the floods earlier in the spring.

Around the market, where there were no privies at all, and where sewer drains were clogged with everything the butchers and other stall-keepers tossed out, Marie-Claire twice had to grasp her stomach and will its contents not to come up. With every step she took, something squished underfoot.

"Our Canadian Girl," a new historical series from Penguin, was clearly designed with educators in mind. The books are short, around 65-75 pages, and in addition to the stories themselves, each includes a map, a timeline, historical background, and illustrations. There is also a website listing where readers can learn more about the various books in the series and the authors who penned them. The title of each book identifies the main character, as well as the central focus of the story. Marie-Claire: Dark Spring is the first of Kathy Stinson's contributions to the series. Set in Montreal during the harsh spring of 1885, the book follows ten year-old Marie-Claire as she struggles to sort out her feelings about God and family.

     Injured in an accident, Marie-Claire's father is unable to work, thereby forcing Marie-Claire's mother to take in extended family and sewing in order to make ends meet. For her part, Marie-Claire is pulled from school to help with the cooking, cleaning, and child-minding of her younger siblings. Admittedly, it is an unfortunate situation for all concerned, but because character development is minimal, the reader never really develops empathy for the difficulties Marie-Claire and her family experience. As a result, several potentially poignant scenes fall flat. When baby Philippe becomes ill and dies, the family moves on without missing a beat - and so does the reader. Likewise, Cousin Lucille's encounter with deadly smallpox is barely mentioned; therefore, the reader isn't overly relieved when she recovers.

     Stinson's handling of the historical aspects of the story, however, is excellent. She has obviously done her homework, painting a vivid picture of the daily life and squalor of Montreal during that dark spring.


Kristin Butcher lives in Victoria, BC, and writes for children.

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