________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 4 . . . . October 12, 2007


When the Bough Breaks.

Irene N. Watts.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2007.
145 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 978-0-88776-821-7.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-15.

Review by Kristin Butcher.

*** /4


Elsie Bates looks at Mother and asks, “Shall I tell your future? I read teacups, palms too.”

I desperately want Mother to say no. I want the woman to go; I don’t like the way she’s staring, her eyes burning in her long thin face.

But Mother drains her cup and passes it to the woman, who turns it this way and that. Gazing at the pattern made by the tea leaves, she begins: “You’ve already traveled far in this life, but I see another journey ahead. You will take a long, long road on the farthest journey of all—a journey far from those dear to you.

”If I didn’t know better, I’d say she’s looking at my mother as if she feels sorry for her. Sorry? What for? My heart beats faster. Mother hates to travel—she likes staying in one place.

My cheeks grow hot, and Mother squeezes my hand. She speaks quietly, firmly, keeping hold of it to calm me, “Don’t we all have a long road to travel, especially in times like these, Mrs. Bates? You are right, I have traveled a fair way, but I’ve gone about as far as I ever want to go.”


When the Bough Breaks by Irene Watts is a sequel to Flower, a touching story that united young Katie Carr with the ghost of her great grandmother, Lillie Bridges. Through these ‘ghostly’ meetings, Katie was able to learn about her family’s past, which—in turn— allowed her to better understand her own life with her father and his new wife.

     Watts’ latest novel revisits Lillie, but this time readers see her in her own time through the eyes of her daughter, Millie. The story is set in a small town in Ontario, during the dirty 30’s, at the height of the Depression. No one has a lot of anything, but William and Lillie Carr, along with their 12-year-old daughter, Millie, and their nine-year-old son, Hamish, are eking out a living. Theirs is a happy, loving little family, and, at the beginning of July it becomes even happier when a second son, Eddie, is born. Three days later, however, the family’s joy turns to despair when Lillie’s heart gives out and she dies.

     But Lillie has taught her daughter well, and Millie steps into the breach, caring for the new baby, her father, and Hamish. She keeps the house, tends the garden, does the laundry, cooks the meals, and even holds down a part-time job at the town pharmacy. It is a lot of work, and Millie always seems to be tired, so she can’t help wonder what is going to happen when she heads back to school in September. Who will look after Eddie? It is a matter she keeps meaning to discuss with her father, but he has been so distant since Lillie’s death that Millie is reluctant to bring up the topic.

     Likewise, she avoids telling her father about Elsie Bates, a gypsy woman who predicted Lillie’s death and who has stopped by the house on several occasions. The woman scares Millie because she seems to have an unnatural interest in Eddie.

     As it turns out, Millie’s fears are well-founded. On a Sunday afternoon at the end of August, she takes the baby to a tea party at the home of her teacher, Miss Tracy, and—at Miss Tracy’s suggestion— parks his buggy under a tree. But when the party ends and Millie goes to get Eddie, he is gone. Beside herself with worry, she races off to find him.

     Hard times seem to bring out the best in people, and Watts’ novel is proof of that. Overall, the characters are caring and compassionate, and there are countless examples of townsfolk coming to one another’s aid. Readers share the Carr family’s grief, as well as Millie’s terror when the baby disappears. We admire Millie’s hard work and devotion to her family and root for her to make everything work out.

     Young readers, particularly girls, should enjoy this book.


Kristin Butcher lives in Campbell River, BC, and writes for children and young adults.

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
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.