CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 6 . . . . November 16, 2001.
A small logging camp on Vancouver Island during the mid-1930's, a period and place little known by most Canadians today, is an unusual setting for relating the daily life of an 11-year-old girl. Trudy lives with her family in a small, mobile community of Euro-Canadians, with a handful of Japanese-Canadian workers living nearby. The children's summertime lives revolve around swimming, fishing, and taking turns on guard duty to watch for sparks from the logging train.
As September approaches, a new concern looms large: ten pupils are needed for the school to acquire a teacher funded by the Department of Education, but only nine students can be rustled together. The problem is apparently solved by registering a pet dog who, after all, comes to the school daily. The unexpected and imminent visit of the school inspector raises panic: how can the shortfall of students be hidden? At the critical moment, a Japanese-Canadian boy, son of a work camp employee, arrives to take a seat, ironically assuming the dog's identity on the register. While this solution prevents disclosure of the irregularity, it also secures Shigi's continued attendance.
This crisis brings to the forefront the prejudicial attitudes both of adults and children towards these Canadians, within the confines of this small community. Trudy, who befriends Shigi as far as the strictures of the society permit, struggles to make sense of the conflict. While visiting a friend in Vancouver, she becomes a terrified onlooker of the Powell Street Riot and discovers first-hand the broader scope of the issue. Incidents of daily life in the camp that year are complicated by the attitudes ingrained in the community. For example, a cougar threatens Shigi's sister who is saved by Trudy and Shigi, Shigi and his mother perform at the school music concert to the ridicule of many residents, and a windstorm causes an accident in which Shigi heroically saves workers. Despite the increased contact between the two groups, the Japanese-Canadians, including Shigi's family, leave the camp at the start of the summer. Shigi and Trudy exchange gifts, but their lives seem destined to remain separate.
In portraying a complex period of Canadian history from a child's perspective, the author faces a difficult balancing act. Some incongruencies exist among the likely appeal of the events in thecamp, the book's reading level, and the treatment of substantive issues, incongruencies which could prove problematic in holding a reader's attention. The incidents of daily life experienced by the eleven-year-old girl, as well as the tone of the language, would most likely appeal to students in Grades Four to Five. However, this audience might not appreciate the broader context which the author provides, for example, by incorporating the riot in Vancouver. Nonetheless, the book is worth acquiring for middle school libraries for its value in addressing this period and setting in Canadian history.
Alexander is a Middle Years Teacher Candidate in the Faculty of Education,
the University of Manitoba.
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