________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number . . . .June 19, 2015


Introducing Mr. B: The Battle Collection.

Norman Thomson. Illustrated by Nicholas Lennox. n.p., www.writestrathearn.com, 2014. 102 pp., trade pbk, $6.00 (plus postage). ISBN 978-0-9936127-8-7.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Meredith Harrison-Lim.

** /4


Davy couldn’t wait to get back from school and try out his present from his grandmother. It was his private time between getting home and before his parents arrived back from work. He dropped his school bag on the floor as he came through the kitchen door and grabbed an apple out the fruit basket. Davy was tall for his age, with blond tints in his dark, brown, spiky hair. His fourteenth birthday was last month and the present was a game: “The Devil and Tam O’Shanter.”

The cover had a grizzly picture on the front and Davy had already torn open the package to read the instructions. He knew his parents would want him to be working on his homework, but that would have to wait while he tried out the game. In the family room he clicked the remote to put on the TV, powered up the Wii system and loaded the game disc. With the controls in his hands he perched himself on the edge of the sofa.


Introducing Mr. B.: The Battle Collection is comprised of four short stories inspired by Robert Burns’ poems. The original poems by Robert Burns with embedded interpretations are included at the back of the book. The stories are: “The Lion Roars”, an interpretation of the poem “Caledonia”; “Devils & Witches”, an interpretation of the poem “Tam O’Shanter”; “Two Mountain Bikes”, an interpretation of the poem “The Twa Dogs”; and “William (heart image) Nancy”, an interpretation of the poem “When Wild Wars Deadly Blast”. The first story, “The Lion Roars”, focuses on a pair of female students on a class trip learning about the battles that helped maintain Scotland’s independence. Summaries are provided regarding four main intrusions. The first history provided is concerned with the Roman invasion around AD 50 wherein the Scots prevailed by using guerilla warfare. In AD 1000, Danes attacked coastal towns and made their way inland. A farming family played an important role in turning around a losing battle for Scotland. In the 13th century, failed negotiations for Norwegian islands resulted in a battle between the Vikings and the Scots. Due to a storm, the Scots had the advantage and were able to force a Viking retreat. After the death of the Norwegian king, an agreement for the sale of the islands was reached. Finally, the girls learn about the many battles that occurred between England and Scotland, conflicts which were finally settled when the two countries united to become Great Britain.

     A strength of this story is the author’s ability to summarize the history of Scotland’s battles with other countries. This information is relayed succinctly in the natural context of a school trip to a museum. While some of the dialogue between the students seems silly, it is realistic conversation between two youths. This story does an excellent job of relaying the history presented in “Caledonia” in an interesting manner to younger readers.

     In the second story, “Devils & Witches”, a boy named Davy plays a new video game that has been given to him for his fourteenth birthday. In the game, Davy must navigate Tam O’Shanter home to his wife. The challenge is that Tam is intoxicated and the journey through Scottish terrain is precarious, even if he has his trusty stead, Meg, along for the journey. It is necessary to cross the River Doon which rushes and crashes like an ocean. Davy selects a challenge that results in Tam’s stopping by a graveyard where the Devil, corpses, witches and warlocks are having a party. Tam is entranced and ends up calling out to a beautiful witch, an action which results in his being chased home. Davy needs to race Meg and Tam ahead of the creatures to the middle of a bridge in order to achieve safety.

     The story does an excellent job of recounting the poem in easily understood language. The context of the events occurring in a video game works well in translating the events from the poem to a younger audience. However, the style used to identify Davy’s actions while playing the videogame is awkward. The backstory concerning Davy and his video game is the correct length, given that the goal is to share the content of the poem “Tam O’Shanter” to the readers. Unfortunately, some of the details regarding Davy seem out of place, given how brief Davy’s active involvement in the storyline is.

     The third story, “Two Mountain Bikes”, concerns two boys from different social classes who are friends. They go for a bike ride together and compete to reach a dam. After Luath, a farmer’s son, makes a dangerous choice that allows him to beat Caesar to the dam, Caesar opens up about his life, as well as his uncle’s affluence. Luath shares how his family makes it through difficult financial times and that their way of life brings them satisfaction in a way that wealth alone would be unable to do. Caesar notes that, while not all wealthy people are the same, it seems like the prosperity that his uncle and his friends have secured causes them anxiety rather than comfort. The two boys then return to their homes.

     The conversation between the two characters closely mirrors the discourse between the two dogs in the poem, “The Twa Dogs”. Unfortunately the context in which the poem is placed seems improbable, given the unlikeliness of two teenaged boys openly engaging in the trials and joys that their families experience due to economic differences. However, despite the dubious premise, this short story would provide students an excellent understanding of “The Twa Dogs”.

     In the final short story, “William (hearts) Nancy”, a young man named William returns to Scotland after serving in Afghanistan as a soldier. While he was proud of the work that he completed while overseas, he doesn’t own much more than the contents of his knapsack. He looks forward to returning to the land of his youth and thinks fondly of his former girlfriend Nancy. As he gets off the bus near his parents’ home, he passes landmarks, including her mother’s house, that cause him to remember spending time with Nancy. To his delight, Nancy is there, working in the garden. At first, she does not recognize him, but she is generous to him given that he wears the same uniform as her former boyfriend. She is delighted when she realizes that William is that old boyfriend and quickly accepts his proposal of marriage. She also has a proposition for him. While he was away, she took over her family’s farm and, together, they can use it to provide for their future.

     “William (hearts) Nancy” is based on “When Wild War’s Deadly Blast”, a poem of a solider returning home after serving in a war. It explains why William may have thought Nancy no longer remembered him and why she did not immediately recognize him. The short story also emphasizes the pride of a soldier that is expressed in the poem. Given the nature of the format of the story in contrast to the poem, some of the beauty expressed in the poem is not captured, in particular the lines: “The brave poor sodger ne’er despise, nor count him as a stranger: Remember he’s his country’s stay (strength), In day and hour of danger.” However, the story does a great job of recounting the events of the poem and would likely ease a student’s transition into reading Robert Burn’s work.

     The four short stories are placed at the beginning of the book while the original poems by Robert Burns are located at the back. Each line of the original poems is followed by a line of interpretation in italics. This format works well as, by providing clarification on the same page, readers are more likely to look up the meaning of terms that cause confusion. In addition, readers may become familiar with the meaning of key terms that are repeated regularly.

     There are black and white illustrations throughout the book. They differ in size, depending upon their placement in the story. The illustrations blend into the text, generally repeating the plot in a visual form. However, the illustrations on the title pages of the short stories provide readers with an understanding of the mood that is intended and are not event specific.

     Overall, Introducing Mr. B.: The Battle Collection could be a valuable resource to teachers or parents hoping to engage youth in poetry or their Scottish heritage.


Meredith Harrison-Lim is a MLIS graduate working for the federal government in the National Capital Region.

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

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