CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 15 . . . . March 31, 2006
Trouble on Tarragon Island. (The Tarragon Island Series, Bk 3).
Winlaw, BC: Sono Nis Press, 2005.
216 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 3-8 / Ages 8-13.
Review by Mary Thomas.
Deciding how to retrieve Granny from the clink the next day leads to a huge fight. Mom has enormous bags under her eyes and doesn't move far from the coffee pot.
"No, Matt. I don't want to take you. I want to talk to your grandmother alone."
Dad intervenes on Matt's behalf. "Bobbi--what harm is there in letting him come along for the ride? He's going to see her soon--"
Another beady glare from Mom and Dad slams his mug down on the counter. "We didn't raise our kids to be sheep, did we?"
"We didn't raise them to be criminals, either!"
"I'm not a criminal!"
Mom ignores Matt's outburst and says, "My mother is not the kind of influence I want for my children."
"I have to disagree, Bobbi. What better role model do you want for them than someone who stands up for her rights and--"
"Ben. Enough. I don't think we should discuss this any further in front of the children."
Matt and I look at each other. I can't remember the last time I heard our parents argue like this. It's practically a full-out fight.
"I think they have every right to hear this--"
Heather has a problem. It's bad enough that her grandmother has joined with a bunch of friends to form the Ladies of the Forest, a group organized to protest the cutting of old-growth trees in British Columbia, but when the Ladies initiate a fund-raising drive selling calendars which feature photographs of them stark naked, it becomes downright embarrassing. In fact, everything is pretty awful, but it gets much worse when Granny is arrested for civil disobedience as she tries to keep the logging machines out of the woods.
In Heather, Nikki Tate has created a complex character who, in the course of the book, not only finds the courage to look at her own feelings and attitudes, but to think rationally about the problems she, and others, face. She changes her own mind but comes to realize that, for complex issues, there are always two, and frequently three or four, sides to every argument. The loggers need their jobs, the environmentalists want to keep their forests, and none of them have exclusive claim to being completely right.
This is by no means the first young adult novel to deal with clear cutting and other devastating forestry practices–Susanna of the Mounties, circa 1940, and William Bell's Speak to the Earth (1994) spring to mind. But our heritage of old trees and the life forms that they support continues to be eroded, and there is no reason not to keep on pointing out the problem just because it is not a new problem. Heather is in a tough situation, pulled in several directions at once, with no easy answers on the horizon. Good luck to her, I say, and she will certainly raise awareness of the problems of problem-solving, as well as the problem of the conflict between users and conservers of one of Canada's natural treasures.
There is another interesting point raised as a side-bar to the main story line. Are graphic novels and videos legitimate writing exercises? Heather's writing group that meets weekly to share and discuss the stories, plays, and poems that they have written is faced with this conundrum at the beginning of the school year when Custer ("His work is some kind of comic strip.") and Karin ("You're a filmmaker?") want to join them. Is their work 'real' writing? The discussion is among kids, but the conflicting opinions are much more widely held. No real conclusion is reached, although Karin's videos of the Ladies of the Forest and the whole clear-cutting issue certainly weigh in her favour, but the airing of points of view is interesting and informative. Teachers, please take note.
Mary Thomas works in elementary schools in Winnipeg, MB, but she is currently on leave and living in Oxford, England.
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