________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 19 . . . . May 16, 2008


Reading the Bones. (A Peggy Henderson Adventure).

Gina McMurchy-Barber.
Toronto, ON: Sandcastle/Dundurn, 2008.
152 pp., pbk., $11.99.
ISBN 978-1-55002-732-7.

Subject Headings:
Coast Salish Indians-Juvenile fiction.
Archeology-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-10 / Ages 10-15.

Review by Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen.

*** /4


That evening I tried to call Mom on the phone to tell her about the excavation. I was desperate to talk to someone who cared about what I was learning. But her voice sounded tired, and she asked me to call back the next day. It wasn't like her to hang up without some kind of encouraging word.

After that I hid in my room. I wasn't in the mood to listen to Aunt Margaret complain about the mess in the yard, so I decided to organize my shell collection. At first I arranged them on my bed from largest to smallest, then reordered them into shell families. When that didn't seem right, I placed them in groups according to shapes. The tusk shells were the only long, thin shells in my collection. As I held them in my hand, I was reminded of the burial in the backyard. Eddy had talked about those old fragmented bones as if the man they had belonged to was someone deserving of respect. Then I recalled the stone tool. Eddy had called it a burin and had said it was used for carving. To her it was another clue, something to help her understand a prehistoric old man whose hands didn't work the way they used to.


Peggy Henderson has had to move to Crescent Beach to live with her aunt and uncle while her mother tries to find work in Toronto. Peggy doesn't get along with her aunt. She knows no one her own age. And she wants to be with her mother again. Then, while helping her uncle in the garden, Peggy uncovers what looks like a human skull. It turns out to be the body of an old Coast Salish man, buried up to five thousand years before. As Peggy helps archaeologist Dr. Eddy McKay with the excavation, she must also come to terms with her aunt and her life.

     Gina McMurchy-Barber has written a very engaging story. The story is mainly set in the present with 12-year-old Peggy as the narrator but sometimes shifts to Shuksi'em, the man whose body Peggy found, and what his life was like in Crescent Beach thousands of years before. This occasional change in narration draws the reader further into the story and brings the past to life. The pace of the story is excellent. The plot and characters are always moving and unfolding, but there are slower moments as well. The slower moments set the mood and the tone for the next segment of the story. The characters are very engaging and highly realistic. They are described in few words, but the description is very deft, giving a good impression of the character. Peggy describes one person as "so tanned and shiny that he reminded me of an oiled hot dog" which I thought was a great use of language.

     I did feel that Peggy was older than twelve. The way she acted and thought had me thinking that she was about fourteen, and I had to keep reminding myself that she was only twelve. This could be illustrative of how independent Peggy is, but I did find it a bit jarring. However, this will likely make Peggy appeal to a larger audience.

     Gina McMurchy-Barber has written a story that is very educational as well as entertaining, and she has succeeded in blending these two elements into a wonderful combination. The educational aspects don't bog down the story, and the morals and lessons of the story don't feel heavy-handed. At the same time, the educational aspects aren't sacrificed to the entertainment.

     Reading the Bones is an excellent story that shows the importance of the past to the present, but also the importance of learning who you are.


Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen is a graduate of the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at UBC, Vancouver, BC.

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
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