________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 4. . . .September 25, 2009

cover

Graveyard of the Sea. (Disaster Strikes, # 4).

Penny Draper.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2008.
181 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 978-1-55050-397-5.

Subject Headings:
Valencia (Steamer)-Juvenile fiction.
Coloma (Ship)-Juvenile fiction.
Vancouver Island (B.C.)-History-20th century-Juvenile fiction.
Shipwrecks-British Columbia-Vancouver Island-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-9 /Ages 9-14.

Review by Jeannine Stickle.

*** /4

   

excerpt:

Nell caught her breath and counted to ten. She was a keeper. She would do what needed to be done.

ARE YOU IN TROUBLE
YES
VALENCIA MISSED THE TURN INTO THE STRAIT OF
JUAN DE FUCA LAST NIGHT
RAN AGROUND
MANY DEAD
100 TRAPPED ON BOARD
SEND HELP

It was a shipwreck! Nell squeezed her eyes shut. She told herself to think hard. What was the most important thing? She had to know where the men were and where the Valencia was.

Twelve-year-old Nell Baker develops from isolated to connected to the world outside her lighthouse home through her use of a telegraph, and she faces natural disaster with bravery in this adventure-filled historical novel. Set in the early 1900s on the coast of Vancouver Island, this highly readable novel tells the story of Nell's growth into maturity and life as a lighthouse keeper's daughter. At the story's opening, a man from the Canadian government visits the lighthouse where Nell lives with her father and grandfather to announce that they will soon be equipped with a telegraph in an effort to improve maritime security on the coast. During his visit, the man also urges Nell's father to send her to Victoria to attend school. Nell is determined to stay, feeling content with her life the way it is, and her father eventually agrees that he would not be able to perform the duties of the keeper, learn to use the telegraph and care for his ailing father without Nell's help. He decides that she should stay, and he assigns her the task of learning to communicate using the telegraph. The telegraph expands Nell's world, and she soon befriends other lighthouse keepers and even the daughter of a keeper, her first friend of her own age. This contact, which instills a desire to experience more of the world outside her home, leads to Nell’s decision at the end of the novel to attend school in Victoria in the next year.

     The true historical events of the story involve two shipwreck rescues that Nell and her neighboring lighthouse keepers become involved with in the novel. The first is the failed rescue of the Valencia, and the climax of the story comes with the second rescue, the shipwreck of the Coloma. Nell sees the shipwreck but, because the telegraph lines are down, she must walk to the house of her friend, Minnie Patterson, to get help for the ship. The author's note at the end of the novel explains that Minnie Patterson and her family were real historical figures who were involved in both rescues.

     The historical events of Graveyard of the Sea are carefully planned to reflect true events and incorporate the fictional characters. The historical elements of the story are also clearly and thoroughly explained in the author's note at the end of the book. Draper deals well with attitudes of the time period that are not shared in contemporary society, such as attitudes towards First Nations people, by representing them without endorsement or judgment. When Nell tells her friend Kate Patterson about her visits to the village of an Ohiaht friend, Kate reveals some prejudices towards First Nations people. Kate's reactions are ignorant by today's standards, but Nell defends her Ohiaht friends without judgment towards Kate.

     The main weakness of the novel is the characterization. The characters tend to be flat, especially the character of Nell who seems little more than a vehicle for tying together various historical events in a way that will interest young readers. The most vivid characters are those who are based on historical figures, such as Minnie Patterson. However, overall the novel is a well-constructed, fun read that will be enjoyed by fans of historical fiction, such as the titles in the “Dear Canada” series. Graveyard of the Sea is recommended for purchase in public and school library collections where historical fiction is popular.

Recommended.

Jeannine Stickle is a Library and Information Studies student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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