________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 20 . . . . June 6, 2002

cover The Word for Home.

Joan Clark.
Toronto, Penguin Canada, 2002.
286 pp., cloth, $22.99.
ISBN 0-670-91121-6.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Val Nielsen.

**** /4

The year is 1926. Fourteen-year-old Sadie and her eight-year-old sister, Flora, are struggling with huge changes in their lives. Within a year, they have lost their mother, moved to Newfoundland from Ontario and have been left by their geologist father in the care of a mean-spirited landlady, Mrs. Hatch.

     Even with the kitchen window closed, she could hear the foghorn. Sadie stopped sweeping the kitchen floor to look out the window at a swath of fog floating through the city like a mantle of gentle mist. She would have stood there transfixed until the hills themselves disappeared if Mrs. Hatch hadn't spoken, startling her into dropping the broom. "No more dilly-dallying. The upstairs hall and your bedroom are to be thoroughly swept if you expect any supper. You can sweep the kitchen after you eat."

     The sisters secretly call their ill-tempered landlady Sour Olive. Though a determined church-goer, she shows little Christian charity toward her two young boarders, increasing their work load and decreasing their food when their father's money stops coming. The moment of truth comes for Sadie when she finds out that Sour Olive has made plans to send them both to an orphanage at the end of the school year. Angry at her father's apparent abandonment of her and Flora and desperately worried about his whereabouts, Sadie must use all her courage and ingenuity to come up with a way to save her family.

     The Word for Home is Joan Clark's eighth children's book. In 1999, she won the prestigious Vicky Metcalf Award for Children's Literature and in 1995 received the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People for her young adult novel, The Dream Carvers. Clark is adept at bringing to life a former time period by using historically accurate details while at the same time creating entirely believable characters to inhabit her settings. Despite the major differences between today's way of life and that of the 1920's, young readers will have no difficulty identifying with the plucky heroine of The Word for Home. Her relationship with Flora--a mix of irritation and affection--is one which will hit home for all readers with younger siblings. Even Clark's minor characters, such as Mrs. Hatch's wayward but warm-hearted daughter, Wanda, and Sadie's almost-boyfriend, the serious and sensitive 16-year-old Teddy, have a ring of authenticity to them. Each is crucial to the plot and character development of The Word for Home. Entirely free of a didactic or condescending tone, the author deals confidently with themes of friendship, responsibility and love in this moving novel. Elementary and junior high school librarians should not miss the opportunity to add The Word for Home to their collections of Canadian historical fiction, nor to recommend the novel for literature circles. It will be a valuable resource for teachers of Canadian Studies who encourage the reading of fiction to complement the nonfiction component of their courses. As teachers and librarians know, older readers are reluctant to pick up novels featuring protagonists younger than themselves. It is, therefore, somewhat disadvantageous that the cover artist's depiction of Sadie gives the impression that she is no more than 12-years-old.

Highly recommended.

A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.

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.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364