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Friesen, Anna and Victor Carl Friesen.

Winnipeg, Queenston House, c1985. 206pp, paper, ISBN 0-919866-94-4 (cloth) $19.95, 0-919866-97-2 (paper) $9.95.CIP

Grades 7 and up
Reviewed by Brenda Watson

Volume 14 Number 1
1986 January

The Mulberry Tree paints vivid pictures of pioneer life in Saskatchewan at the turn of the century. Anna and Carl Friesen, mother and son, recount the settlement of Anna's family near Rosthern, Saskatchewan. They were Mennonites from Minnesota, originally from the Netherlands. The book's central figure is Anna from about age four to fourteen. It is through her eyes that the reader comes to know the other members of the family and the community. Anna's father, Peter, is a hard-working, far-seeing, boisterous man who tells wonderful stories. Her mother, Sarah, is the quiet, enduring cornerstone of the family. Two brothers and seven sisters share Anna's two-room sod house. She is a strong, healthy child and is most often found working in the barns and the fields. Anna guides us through the seasons, the social customs, the educational system, and the community life of the times. One of the books most noteworthy accomplishments is its portrayal of the anguish of growing up, as well as the joy. As we see the prairies as only a child at play can see them, we also feel Anna's humiliation at having no Christmas present to boast about on her return to school and feel her fear that the autumn brush fires may engulf her home while she sleeps.

While the family and many of their neighbours are Mennonites, this is a book more about pioneer living than about Mennonite religion and customs. An appendix of recipes for traditional Mennonite foods is included. The book is non-fiction, but is definitely a story and not an indexed reference book. Teachers could read aloud passages to illustrate various pioneer activities. It is a satisfactory read on its own for those who enjoy biography or have an interest in pioneer life. The paperback edition is sturdy, the printing is crisp and well-spaced, and the cover has an appealing illustration of the mulberry tree of the title. Recommended.

Brenda Watson, Victoria, B.C.
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