________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 11 . . . . January 31, 2003


Whispers of War: The War of 1812 Diary of Susanna Merritt. (Dear Canada).

Kit Pearson.
Markham, ON: Scholastic Books, 2002.
220 pp., cloth, $14.99.
ISBN 0-439-98836-5.

Subject Heading:
Canada-History-War of 1812-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-7 / Ages 10-12.

Review by Gail de Vos.

*** /4


15 May 1812

Dear Constance,

As I was riding back from Abbie' through the darkest part of he forest I met a wolf! It was large and grey and trotted towards me. Sukie froze and would not go on, no matter how much I kicked her sides. The wolf paused and looked intently at us with its narrow golden eyes, as if it were gathering its strength to leap. Then it ran off the trail into the trees.

We often hear wolves howling at night, but I have never before seen one in the daytime. After it left I sat for a long time on Sukie's back, both of us trembling violently. What if it had attacked us? I stroked Sukie and tried to calm her - to calm both of us. Mixed with my fear was awe at the animal's stateliness, and an enormous relief at being spared. When we had both stopped shaking we galloped home as fast as we could.

In her instalment of the “Dear Canada” series of historical fiction, Kit Pearson is offering her readers a slightly different perspective of the War of 1812. The writer of this diary is 11-year-old Susanna who records the mostly mundane details of her life in Upper Canada for the year - her friendships, her hardships, her adventures at school, and in her visits to the town of Niagara where her father is sheriff.

     Beneath the descriptions of daily life, however, lies Susanna's dawning realization of the devastation of the fast approaching war. It is a war of confusion and a war of loyalties and allegiance. She tries to understand her neighbours who are struggling to declare loyalty to one side or the other. She, and the women and children left behind when war is finally declared, combat a different campaign of survival than the men folk face. They are, in their own way, resilient in the face of danger and survival. And so, Susanna's story is also one of hope.

     The wolf, a metaphor for the danger and confusion in which Susanna feels herself encased, reappears in Susanna's dreams and thoughts. She deflects these worries by concentrating on the people around her and the tasks that must be done. Susanna's story is, for the most part, a gentle story but is one that has a powerful human quality to it as Susanna and her family struggle to survive the turbulence they and their neighbours face in the trauma of war.

     Kit Pearson has based her fictional family on her own ancestors and includes tidbits of family legend along with several historical figures. Susanna, just as the historical Susan Merritt is reputed to have done, gets to meet General Brock and actually buckles his sword for luck on the fateful morning before the Battle of Queenston Heights. As well, during the year of the diary, Susanna's older sister, Maria, becomes betrothed to Charles Ingersoll, the brother of Laura Secord. In the epilogue to the diary, the reader learns that Susanna's brother, Hamilton Merritt, the person who gave her the diary and encouraged her writing, survives the war of 1812 and eventually “becomes known for being instrumental in the construction of the Welland Canal between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.”

     Whispers of War highlights a different perspective on the War of 1812 in Niagara before it was destroyed in 1813, and the book includes photographs, maps, recipes and instructions on making a whirligig.


Gail de Vos teaches at the School of Library and Information Studies for the University of Alberta and is the author of six books on storytelling and folklore.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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