CM . . . .
Volume V Number 20 . . . . June 4, 1999
Lamplighter, the first in Bernice Thurman Hunter's series of historical fiction novels about life in Ontario, was followed by The Railroader (1990) and The Firefighter (1991). This episodic novel reveals, through significant events during one year in the life of the main character, the typical challenges and simple pleasures of living in Northern Ontario in 1888. Willie Adams, almost seven, is the youngest of five children in an extended family living in a simply-furnished, drafty two-story log farmhouse. Willie is a sensitive boy who suffers when his pet goose, Gertie, is eaten for Christmas dinner and when Sam's unwanted kittens are drowned. Like many younger brothers, he silently tolerates most of the torments of his brother, Artie. Willie demonstrates the maturity often required of youngsters at that time by doing the farm chores when his parents are absent assisting a neighbour and a vicious winter storm delays the return from school of his older siblings. Willie's aspiration to be a lamplighter like the one he saw in Toronto on his first visit (and first episode) and reaffirmed on a return trip (and final episode) gives the book its title. Willie's strong caring mother and stern practical father are consistent, well-developed characters. His sisters and grandparents are believable characters who have minor roles. However, brother Artie, described as a bully, sometimes acts with compassion. He tries to keep Willie from observing the kittens being drowned. He gives Willie a wooden box for his birthday which he has refinished by hand. The promised consequence when Willie tells about having had his ears pulled is never delivered.
Lamplighter is a competently written book in which careful attention has been paid to details. It could be used as a read-aloud in grade three or enjoyed by independent readers from grades three to five. With a brief introduction, individual chapters could be used as short stories to enhance social studies units about life in Canada 100 years ago.
Joan Simpson is the teacher-librarian at Dalhousie Elementary School in Fort Garry School Division in Winnipeg, MB.
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