________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 22. . . .February 12, 2016


Mayann’s Train Ride.

Mayann Francis. Art by Tamara Thiebaux Heikalo.
Halifax, NS: Nimbus, 2015.
32 pp., hardcover & pdf, $19.95(hc.).
ISBN 978-1-77108-348-5 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-77108-349-2 (pdf).

Subject Heading:
Francis, Mayann Elizabeth-Juvenile fiction.

Kindergarten-grade 2 / Ages 5-7.

Review by Ellen Heaney.

*** /4




Mayann’s Train Ride is an autobiographical picture book story that is based on an incident in the life of an African-Canadian who grew up to become, among other things, the Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia.

internal art     Readers are presented with a comforting story about a family holiday which has a feeling appropriate to its 1950’s setting. School is out for the summer, and Mayann and her sister are excited about the upcoming trip by train from Cape Breton to visit relatives in New York City. As their father is the local Anglican priest, they are well-known in their community. The porter greets their arrival at the station:

Hello, Father Francis and Mrs. Francis,” said the porter. “And are you young ladies ready for your train ride?” he asked my sister and me. Before we could answer, he said, “That’s a nice purse you have there.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I saved my allowance and bought it for my trip.”

I was happy he noticed my beautiful purse.

     The girls enjoy the passing scenery and the adventure of climbing into a sleeping car berth and then visiting friends in Montreal before embarking on the second leg of the journey. Mayann records events and tucks her notebook into the treasured green purse.

     At last the family arrives at its destination:

We passed through the Bronx and Harlem, and Mommy said we were almost there. Then, after the train entered a dark tunnel, we arrive at our last stop, Grand Central Station. There was Uncle Eddie, standing on the platform. We thanked the porters for helping us with our suitcases, climbed into Uncle Eddie’s car, and headed to Brooklyn. Soon we were in front of the family brownstone. Everyone was waiting for us. We all kissed and hugged, so happy to see each other.

And everyone like my purse! Uncle Eddie even gave me an American five-dollar bill to put inside it.

      Next day there is a wonderful visit to the Bronx Zoo that ends unhappily when Mayann realizes that she has left her purse on the subway! Phone calls to inquire if the purse has been found prove fruitless, and even a trip to see the Empire State Building cannot lifts Mayann’s mood.

     Readers might expect the purse to be miraculously restored, but, in fact, it is gone forever. Instead, it is clear that news of the little girl’s loss has gotten around amongst the Harlem church congregation where the family goes on the Sunday after the trip to the zoo. A kind adult gives Mayann’s sister a bracelet and Mayann a new purse, one that containis a crisp five-dollar bill inside.

     On the strength of this act of generosity, Mayann is able to enjoy the rest of an action-filled family holiday.

     The final paragraph of the story is satisfying if a bit saccharine:

On the train ride back to Nova Scotia, I thought about how lucky I was. If I hadn’t lost my purse, I might not have realized that friends and family, not the things we carry with us, are what makes a vacation truly wonderful.

     Tamara Thiebaux Heikalo has painted a gentle and naturalistic vision of this episode in Mayann’s young life. Watercolour backdrops are detailed, and each human figure is accentuated with a strong black outline. The family, the Harlem churchgoers, the Cape Breton taxi driver and the railway porters are all black, although there are a few white faces in the schoolyard at the start and on the train as well. There is no whiff of the racial discrimination or segregation which surely was some part of Mayann’s world.

     An interesting snapshot of an unfamiliar time and place, Mayann’s Train Ride is recommended for primary school and public library collections.


Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, 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.
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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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