CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 11 . . . . January 31, 2003
The “Our Canadian Girl” series presents the lives of ordinary girls from different eras in the country's history. Each of these girls forms part of the Canadian fabric; they have experienced events and social situations that we learn about in school today. Their experiences and reactions are typical, displaying the difficulties and challenges of everyday life.
Margit is one of the very few lucky Jews allowed to enter Canada during World War II, although the Canadian government has made it clear they hope to deport them as soon as hostilities end. After fleeing Hungary by dangerous and secret means, she arrives in Toronto with her pregnant mother; her father's fate is unknown. Relatives set them up in a tiny apartment in Kensington Market where Margit and her mother try to adjust to their new environment.
Margit is relieved that she no longer lives in daily fear of violence and death at the hands of the Nazis. She is enthralled by the crush of people and the variety of shops in the Kensington Market, where Jews, Italians, Chinese and other ethnic groups sell food and other goods. She finds a friend in Alice, who makes her feel more at ease and helps her with her English.
But Margit is nervous about starting school. Despite her hard work, she still makes errors in English grammar, expressions and pronunciation. Her clothes are different from those worn by Canadian girls, but her mother has little money to buy new clothes, earning very little from piecework sewing as the little baby swells within her.
Margit struggles to adapt to the different type of classroom, the speed of spoken English and to the different social culture. She encounters anti-Semitism from some classmates and is overwhelmed by worry about her missing father.
But Margit prevails, with the help of Alice and her mother, who reminds Margit of the strength of character needed to survive in Hungary. Buoyed by the birth of her new brother and the news that the Nazis are being routed, Margit begins to settle in to her new life. At the request of her teacher she reluctantly reads her journal to her classmates. To her surprise, the majority of students are interested and sympathetic, except for the diehard racist who may never change her attitude. Margit realizes that there will always be people who like to bully and discriminate; she must accept that and be able to deal with it.
Home Free will be interesting and educational for earnest readers, especially girls from ages 9-12. Background information about the war and the Nazi campaign of genocide against the Jews is explained in the introduction, "Meet Margit," so that the young reader will have a base of knowledge to understand the storyline. The plot deals with many different issues in Margit's life in only 87 pages, and so the treatment of each is limited but fairly realistically done. The chapter book format and the pleasing cover illustration of thriving Kensington Market by Janet Wilson invite attention. The soft pencil drawings inside the book are aptly chosen for each chapter.
Kathy Kacer gives the reader a vignette of how life was (and is) for new arrivals in Canada. Their world is turned upside down as they adjust to everything new and different; their expectations are often dashed by economic and social difficulties and the reality of intolerance in Canada. Hopefully children reading this story will apply the lessons of this story and demonstrate understanding attitudes towards others who are different than they.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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