Wings to Fly.
Celia Barker Lottridge. Illustrated by Mary Jane Gerber.
Grades 3 - 6 / Ages 8 - 11.
Grades 3 - 6 / Ages 8 - 11.
In this sequel to Ticket to Curlew, winner of the 1993 Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award, Lottridge returns to the Alberta prairie and the Ferrier family. While Ticket to Curlew was the story of Sam Ferrier, Wings to Fly is about Josie, his 11-year-old sister. The year is 1918, and the Ferriers have lived in Curlew, Alberta, for three years. For Josie, the isolation of prairie life has been the most difficult obstacle to overcome since her family' s move from Iowa. She is lonely without any friends her own age and spends much of her time gazing at an abandoned silver house that stands empty in the vast prairie grass:
The silver house stood all alone on a small rise of ground. It didn't even have a chicken house to keep it company or a path to invite a traveler to its door. Nothing around it moved except the prairie grass stirring in the hot wind. Today it seemed to Josie that the house was just lightly settled on the earth like a big gray bird.
At the book's centre is the silver house which functions as a symbol of community and friendship. Josie's feelings of isolation draw her to the forsaken house. To her, it seems like the house is also longing for a friend. The arrival of the Grahams, an English family with a young daughter, fills Josie with delight and anticipation. But Josie's hopes for her long-awaited friend are dashed when Margaret Graham responds to her overtures with a remoteness that echoes the isolation of the neglected house. The silver house also mirrors Mrs. Graham's solitude. Shamed by her new home, a primitive soddy with dirt floors, Mrs. Graham withdraws from her neighbours and family. In the end, it is the house that heals these feelings of loneliness and detachment. Josie's and Margaret's shared interest in the silver house strengthens their friendship, while Josie's plan for the house finally makes Mrs. Graham feel that she is part of the community.
Lottridge is particularly adept at evoking time and place. In Wings to Fly, the rigors of prairie life are made real, from the influenza epidemic and winter storms that ravage the small community, to the patriarchal society that confines women to the home. From an historical perspective, the story paints an interesting picture of a society on the verge of reform. The end of World War I brings many changes to Curlew, especially for women. Mrs. Ferrier takes on the the school board chairman for unfair hiring practices, Angela Barnett, Curlew s school teacher, dreams of becoming an astronomer, and Katherine Stinson, a female aviator, flies because "no one has thought to tell her she can't". With all these examples of independent and resourceful women, Josie begins to understand that she, too, has wings to fly.
The only drawback to this well-written story are the black and white illustrations which lack detail and are less effective than the text in conveying the atmosphere and setting of the story. Wings to Fly would be an excellent bridge to classroom discussions on history, community values, and the role of women in the early part of the twentieth century.
Jennifer Sullivan works within The Canadian Children's Literature Service of the National Library of Canada.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - JANUARY 16, 1998.
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