CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 17 . . . . January 5, 2018
Every year, as a symbol of thanks for aid in a time of need, Halifax sends a giant Christmas tree to Boston. Marijke Simons has decided to tell this story and does so in a unique way. Told from the perspective of a family of flying squirrels, The Flying Squirrel Stowaways traces this tree's trip from Halifax to Boston.
One of the first things that may be a surprise to readers, especially those on the East Coast, is that flying squirrels live in Nova Scotia. I'm sure I knew this myself at one point, but I will admit I had to double check to see that these rarely seen nocturnal creatures did, in fact, call Nova Scotia home. If nothing else, this book will spread that little piece of knowledge. What this book is really about, though, is the route of a Christmas tree being sent from Halifax to Boston as a thank-you for Boston's help after the Halifax Explosion of 1917. Most people who grew up on the East Coast or who watch "Heritage Minutes" commercials will likely already know the story. Simons does not go into much detail about the disaster, and that is in keeping with the tone of the book.
The language Simons uses is clear and simple. Some of the pages are a little too text heavy to appeal to very young children, but the book would be good for school age children. The simple language would be appropriate for children who have just learned to read and are ready to take on a longer picture book and a few challenging words. The sentences and dialogue are all very straightforward and easy to follow. The story, itself, is relatively predictable, with the squirrels taking the trip to Boston and conveniently finding a new cozy tree to call home.
The art is done in a beautiful painterly style. While the images, themselves, may not be immediately appealing to small children, the flying squirrels are especially cute and endearing, making readers root for them instantly. There are several people depicted as the squirrels' tree comes in contact with them. Marijke has included indigenous people on two pages, one of which features a smudging ceremony. It is reasonable to assume that they may be of Mi'kmaq descent (the largest indigenous group in the province), though it is not clearly stated. While I did not find an exact match for the regalia depicted, the clothes worn by a group of indigenous women depicted in another part of the story seem to be accurate.
The two two-page spreads at the end of the book are especially effective. One is used to show the scale of the large decorated tree in all its lit up glory and echoes another similar two page spread of the tree as it is being cut down which appears earlier in the book. The second two page spread shows a simple map of the Maritime provinces as well as some of New England. It allows children to visually trace the route the tree and the squirrels have taken on a map, giving readers some perspective and providing a good jumping-off point for exploring geography.
The Flying Squirrel Stowaways is an interesting and relatively well told story that highlights a piece of local interest from a unique perspective. While the story may not necessarily be appealing to a wide range of children, it still has its value. I would not recommend The Flying Squirrel Stowaways as a first purchase, but it is definitely worth buying for libraries looking to round out their Canadian content. It would also make a nice Canadian contribution to seasonal collections.
Alex Matheson is a children's librarian who hails from the Maritimes but is currently living in Vancouver, BC.