CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 11. . . .November 13, 2015
Through Flood & Fire: A Second Barr Colony Adventure.
Regina, SK: Coteau, 2015.
205 pp., trade pbk., pdf, epub & mobi, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-55050-640-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55050-647-1 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-55050-872-7 (epub), ISBN 978-1-55050-879-6 (mobi).
Barr Colony (Alta. and Sask.)-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.
Review by Kay Weisman.
Suddenly awake to the lurking danger, Mam sniffed the air. Following her nose, she stared at the southern view. “Good Lord, Willy, this land is a giant tinder box! We shall be burned alive!”
“Steady yourself, Aggie. There are prairie fires every day out here. The wind has changed direction, that’s all.” With pinched eyebrows Dad studied the smoke, then took the reins to urge the horses into a canter.
Descending into a flat-bottomed valley, they skirted a large slough whose surface was wrinkled into wavelets. Several squawking mallards rose into the air, then settled again.
Finally, Dad grunted. “Dodie, reassure your sister and Mrs. Sutton that I have everything under control.”
In the speeding wagon Dorothy jostled over luggage to the rear. “There’s a prairie fire to the south of us,” she puffed, “but Dad says not to worry.”
“Not to worry!” shrieked Lydia, craning out the back. “Look!” Across a wide arc coils of black smoke seethed into the southern sky. Occasional flames flared up.
“Mercy,” breathed Dorothy, “it’s almost upon us!”
Mrs. Sutton wrapped her arms around both girls. They huddled on the mattresses, staring at the menacing mass of roiling smoke. Dorothy heard Dad whipping the horses to run faster. He never did that. He must be in a panic, too!
Through Flood and Fire, the sequel to Full Steam to Canada, finds Dodie Bolton and her family continuing their westward journey to the Barr Colonies of Saskatchewan. Having survived an ocean voyage and cross-country train ride to Saskatoon, the family prepares for the final leg of their journey—a covered wagon trek across the prairies to the tract of land reserved for them. Dad is anxious to file his land claim as soon as possible, but an outbreak of scarlet fever compels Mam to temporarily remain behind nursing the colonists now in quarantine. As greenhorns, the Boltons encounter a full range of prairie hazards: a valley of snakes newly awakened from winter hibernation; flooded rivers that must be crossed; nasty falls that impede Dodie’s mobility; food insecurity; and raging prairie fires that threaten everything in their path. Eventually, the entire family is reunited on their new land, but it’s clear that more struggles lie ahead as they prepare to build a house and farm the land.
Although this story is fictionalized, Patton based the Bolton family on the real-life experiences of Barr Colony settler Dorothy Holtby Boan. The writing is smooth, and Patton’s attention to setting and historical details is commendable. As in the earlier book, some of the characters feel a bit stereotypical. Mam, for example, looks down on those she sees as socially inferior, such as Mrs. Sutton (who worked in service before immigrating) and Mr. Parenteau (a Metis settler who rescues the Boltons on numerous occasions). She also seems unable to part with her old world ideas about “lady-like” behavior, despite the harsh realities of her new life. However, Dodie and Lydia continue to evolve as a result of their experiences, with both girls coming to appreciate the many opportunities their new Canadian life offers them.
Through Flood and Fire will be popular with historical fiction buffs (particularly Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House devotees looking for a Canadian counterpart) and useful for middle grade classrooms studying Canadian history. A concluding volume is in the works.
Kay Weisman works as a youth services librarian at West Vancouver Memorial Library and chairs the Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada’s Information Book Award.
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