________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 19 . . . . January 23, 2015


Born!: A Foal, Five Kittens, and Confederation.

Deirdre Kessler. Illustrated by Brenda Jones.
Charlottetown, PE: Acorn Press, 2014.
48 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-927502-33-4.

Grades 1-5 / Ages 6-10.

Review by Beth Maddigan.

**** /4


Alexander Griffin was known throughout Charlottetown for his well-run livery stable and his kindness to horses, whether they were his own horses or those boarded with him.

"Good day, Young Master Harris," said Mr. Griffin. "Will your band be playing for the grand doings over at the Colonial Building?"

"Yes, sir," said Robert. "We have been told to play our very best for the important people from the other Maritime Colonies and the Canadas. They're going to talk about uniting our Maritime colonies to help protect us from the Americans."

Alexander went into Fiona's stall. As he talked he looked her over carefully.

"I am not sure Maritime Union would be a good thing." Alexander said. "But, for certain, one good thing about the meetings is that our best turn-outs are booked solid for ten days! There are excursions and parties and whatnot. We'll be busy as beavers!"


At age seven, famous Canadian portrait painter Robert Harris sailed from Wales with his family to live in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Harris was a creative young man known to be an accomplished musician and was reportedly fascinated with drawing from a very young age. Renowned for his iconic painting, Meeting of the Fathers of Confederation, 1864, Harris is a secondary character in this important piece of historical fiction written by award-winning Canadian author, Deirdre Kessler. The main characters, Gabriel and Grace, are fictional nine-year old twins who are obsessed with one of their family horses, Fiona, and the anticipated birth of her foal.

     Born! is an example of historical fiction at its finest. The twins are lively characters, portrayed as they would have lived, filled with excitement about the newborn animals at their family stable and the coming of the circus to Charlottetown for the first time in decades. Readers will be caught up in Gabriel and Grace's story and will gain a greater understanding of life in 1864 as seen through the eyes of two nine-year olds. The arrival of the famous politicians for meetings that would formally begin the process leading to Confederation is the backdrop of the story. Accurate historical details about these events and other happenings in Charlottetown are entwined in the plot, providing a detailed setting and authentic atmosphere.

     Inspired by a letter written by Robert Harris' mother, Sarah, in which she details the excitement of the pre-Confederation meetings to her mother-in-law in England, this book will be a launching point for students to explore the early history of our country. The letter mentions important meetings and the opportunities Robert had to play as a member of the band for the visiting dignitaries. Further historical research is woven into the story with the arrival of a boat carrying William Henry Pope and the chatter of the villagers at the dock about the pros and cons of a potential union between the Maritime Colonies and Upper Canada. Gabriel and Grace watch the comings and goings with some interest and try to pay attention to the details that will help them with their drawing lessons (provided by 14-year-old Harris), but they are quickly distracted by leftover treats from the banquet and by a runaway horse.

     This third-person narrative has its fictional elements richly illustrated with mixed media depictions by Brenda Jones. Jones' detailed artwork is complemented beautifully with reproductions of paintings by Robert Harris inserted at appropriate intervals. In addition, sketches and photographs from the Confederation Art Gallery, P.E.I. Public Archives, and Illustrated London News are also added into the mix. A balance of these conflicting styles is very difficult to achieve, but the accomplishment in this work is a comprehensive and stylistic feat. My single issue with the layout lies with the typesetting of the text. The paragraphs need to be better spaced to improve the readability for independent readers. The story is designed to be read-aloud to younger children, and this will not present a problem for accomplished readers. But, the book would also be useful as an independent reading choice for established readers – for example in literature circles in elementary grade classrooms. However, the dominance of the heavy text with a lack of white space between paragraphs to improve the flow will make it a challenging task for struggling readers. This, though, is a minor quibble, and the story will absolutely find its audience in classrooms and homes across the country.

     Rich discussions can be draw from this text. Immediately after reading it, questions sprang to mind that this reader could imagine using with a group of 8-year olds - What is the significance of the title Born?. Why is Alexander Griffin more concerned with his business than the political meetings? Consider the painting of the Province House Ball and the flyer for the Olympic Circus – which would you rather attend and why? In addition to proving fodder for historical discussions and critical thinking, the story, itself, is quite simply a good one. Children will delight in the exciting plot developments and delightful, satisfying ending. Young people will learn about a very important time in our Canadian history, and they will appreciate the setting of historical Charlottetown steeped in a rich tapestry befitting the beautiful province of P.E.I.. Born is recommended for every school and public library in Canada.

Highly Recommended.

Beth Maddigan is Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Education Librarian.

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

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