________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 20. . . .January 29, 2016


Prairie Pictures.

Shirlee Smith Matheson.
Victoria, BC: Wandering Fox/Heritage House, 2014.
143 pp., trade pbk., epub & epdf, $9.95 (pbk.), $7.99 (epub), $7.95 (epdf).
ISBN 978-1-772030-11-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-772030-12-9 (epub), ISBN 978-1-772030-13-6 (epdf).

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Dorothea Wilson-Scorgie.

** /4



I looked around at the people, and out the clear glass window to the prairie lands that flowed from the church yard in green waves. I suddenly felt that I knew this land, with its sage-covered coulees that rolled mile after mile just like the hunched shoulders of the great buffalo. Soon the fields would become summer-sweet with life, with green grass swaying as if in time to fine music, the prairie painted goldenrod yellow, crocus blue, paintbrush red. Even now I could smell the sweet scent of wolf-willow shining silver along the banks of a green river, and the richness of turned black earth. My ears picked up songs of the prairie: the two-syllable cry of the killdeer; the spring melodies of the meadowlark; the remembered winter cheer of the chickadee.


Sherri Farquhar, a 12-year-old girl, is about to start grade six… in a new school, again. Sherri’s family of four has followed her father’s meandering career across two provinces in the last two years, and they now find themselves stationed in a small rural town called Gardin, AB. Bonnie, her six-year-old sister, is both scared and excited, her mother is protective, and her father is focused on his new job at the meat packing plant. After moving so frequently with her family, Sherri is familiar with the process of fitting into new surroundings, but the surroundings she finds herself in now are unlike any place she has lived before: ranches, coulees, horseback riding, and square dancing show Sherri another side to life that she never knew existed.

     Shirlee Smith Matheson uses first person narration to share Sherri’s story, and she employs a high level of description, especially when conveying the beautiful prairie setting. Each chapter functions as an isolated episode which mostly follows chronologically throughout the year (except for chapters nine and ten which sequence from March back to January). The plot is simple and straightforward, and many characters are introduced along the way, adding colour to the story. The pace of the story is a bit lopsided. After being heavily focused on the fall and winter for a majority of the novel, the reader is then whisked through spring and early summer in a few pages.

     For a 12-year-old, Sherri is incredulously level-headed and methodical about moving from place to place and joining a new class. Since Sherri’s character deals with situations in a mature way from the beginning, there is not much room left for character growth over the course of the book. Readers do see Jamie, a fellow newcomer, demonstrate understandable adolescent struggle to find his place, but he is untimely (and inexplicably) ripped from the story in the middle of the novel with only so much as a paragraph offered in explanation.

     This republished novel, originally published in 1989, feels like it has one foot in the past and one in the present. Internet searches and mentions of iPhones and mini iPads were peppered throughout the text in order to technologically bring the story into the twenty-first century, but Sherri’s dialogue and reactions did not feel compatible with the attitude of a contemporary 12-year-old. This anachronistic tone is especially notable with the “slam book” that goes around her classroom wherein classmates write out their hatred for other groups of students in the school. If this novel were truly set in 2014, then the “slam book’ would probably have taken some form of cyberbullying instead. Matheson has her character Jamie offer an explanation as to why their classmates would not have used Facebook, but his reply that the written word offers more opportunity for anonymity is not accurate nor convincing. Furthermore, the fact that the “slam book” was supported by the classroom teacher as a form of releasing of tensions, rather than causing them, seems totally implausible. As for the updated cover, it is visually appealing. However, the girl in the image looks like she’s in her mid-teens, around 16-years-old. This could be a bit misleading for readers when they open the book and find that the main character is just starting grade six.

     From an informational perspective, this novel includes extensive detail about ranches and herding, petroglyphs, aspects of figure skating, and the UNESCO World Heritage Dinosaur Provincial Park. While at times the information seemed a bit exhaustive, it certainly was educational.

     Overall, Matheson’s episodic story of a city girl experiencing the raw beauty of the prairies has its moments. The amount of sensory detail written into the story would make any reader feel as if he or she, too, were standing in an open prairie field. It’s just the lack of depth to the main character and the forced technological updates that give this book a mismatched vibe. Regardless, readers wanting to get a simplified taste of rural life would appreciate this book.


Dorothea Wilson-Scorgie has completed her MA degree in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and is currently pursuing a MLIS degree at the University of Alberta. She resides in Victoria, BC, with her husband and their miniature dachshund.

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

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