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

cover Penelope: Terror in the Harbour. (Our Canadian Girl).

Sharon E. McKay.
Toronto, ON: Penguin Books, 2001.
65 pp., pbk., $7.99.
ISBN 0-14-100329-4.

Subject Heading:
Halifax (N.S.)-History-Explosion, 1917-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Kristin Butcher.

**** /4


Penny stood and the world seemed to shift. She blinked, tried to focus. "Walk" she commanded her legs. "Walk." Her house? Where was her house? There. It was tilted but still standing. The doors and windows had been blown in.

"Billy!" Mrs. Hanson, a big woman who never ran, came running. "Billy? Billy!" She stopped in front of Penny.

"Have you seen my Billy?" she cried. Who was Billy? She couldn't think. She didn't answer but only stared up at the woman's blackened face.

Mrs. Hanson spun around and ran down the road, screaming her son's name. The next scream came from Penny as she sank to the ground. A piece of glass as big as a plate was sticking out of Mrs. Hanson's back.

Our Canadian Girl is a collection of historical vignettes designed to expose young readers - especially girls - to Canada's past. This educational focus, in conjunction with the fact that the books are all written by accomplished Canadian children's authors, has pretty much guaranteed the series shelf space in every school library across the country. Each book follows a strict format with regard to length, content, and style. Despite these confines, however, Sharon E. McKay's story, Penelope: Terror in the Harbour, shines like a finely cut gem.

     From the very first sentence, the reader is drawn into Penny's life. There is an urgency to her story that can't be ignored. This might be partly due to the fact that the story encompasses only a few hours. But those hours are packed with action and emotion. It is early morning on December 6, 1917 in the city of Halifax, and ten-year-old Penny's day is beginning much like all the other days since her mother's death nearly a year before. But it soon becomes clear that it is going to be a very different day indeed, one that those who live through it will never forget. While Penny rushes about getting her little sisters washed, dressed, fed, off to the babysitter, and herself off to school, two ships collide in Halifax Harbour, setting off an explosion that sets the city reeling. The rest of Penny's day is spent trying to survive the disaster and reunite her family.

     It is no small feat that in a mere 65 pages, McKay is able to breathe life into 1917 Halifax, recapture the horror of that tragic morning, and make the reader care what happens to Penny and her family.

Highly Recommended.

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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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364