April brought spring to Ste. Justine, Québec. The boys hated spring. The rink melted and spelled the end of the hockey season. Until the snow flew again, there would be nothing but school and boxing.
The world boxing champion was Joe Louis. Young Roch Carrier didn’t like boxing enough to put his picture up on his bedroom wall next to that of Maurice Richard, the famous number 9 of the Montreal Canadiens, but he joined the other boys in the Côtés’ summer kitchen for the boxing matches.
One of the Côté boys would draw a big chalk square on the wooden floor and everyone gathered round this improvised ring to cheer on the boxers. When it was his turn, Maurice danced around, fists up and head down, but he never lasted longer than a single punch. He would stumble out of the ring, his face bleeding. The girls, who came along to watch the fights and fuss over pugilists, never threw a single admiring glance his way.
Roch’s friends were the sons of farmers, truck drivers or loggers. They had been working along side their fathers since they were small, and were strong and well built. Roch, on the other hand, had arms like noodles.
The winter he turned ten, Roch spotted a newspaper ad promising to make him into a world champion. He sent off five dollars to the address indicated and then a further thirty dollars, just about all the money he had in his bank account, to purchase his Miracle Muscles kit.
He stuck to an exhausting regime of self improvement all that winter. he ran to and from school, raced up and down the stairs, and worked out with his new exerciser and barbells. As he exercised, Roch repeated, “I’m a champion,” as motivational auto-suggestion. Before long he was dreaming of besting first the Côté brothers and then conquering greater opponents and becoming the first French-Canadian boxing champion in the world.
Spring came at last, and with it Roch’s chance to prove himself. He stepped proudly into the ring in the Côtés’ summer kitchen, conscious of his new muscles. He ignored a snickering reference to his resemblance to a plucked chicken and prepared to fight. The bell sounded, and he attacked.
When he opened his eyes, Roch found himself lying on the floor. His nose was bleeding. As he lay there, the prettiest girl in the whole class smiled at him and threw him some wildflowers. He had at last become a champion of the boxing ring!
Written by Roch Carrier and illustrated by Sheldon Cohen, The Boxing Champion is a sequel to The Hockey Sweater, and recounts the humorous tale of a young boy’s campaign to prove himself in the boxing ring and, if not cover himself with glory, at least win some attention from the girls. This lovely story recalls the days of classified ads that promised the world…and sometimes even delivered. A wonderful book for readers from age 4.
In August 1940, Nurse Aileen Rogers stands on the pier at Halifax harbour waiting to meet a ship full of English children. They have been sent by their families to spend the rest of World War II in Canada where they will be safe from the bombs.
From his perch in the pocket of Aileen’s uniform, Teddy watches the children disembark, and notices two of the smallest in particular. Grace and her five-year-old brother William look lost and afraid. Aileen goes over, introduces herself and Teddy, and tries to reassure the children but it is Teddy’s offer to keep them company on the train that brings a first tentative smile to the little boy’s face.
Teddy boards the train with William and Grace. He spends the night tucked into the berth between them, and looks out the window with them during the days that follow at the passing countryside. Teddy notes, too, that his old friend Aileen is kept very busy looking after the other children as the train makes its way west through New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario.
In many towns it passes through, the train is met by people with fruit and toys for the little war guests. At each stop, some of the children get off to meet their families. Teddy learns from Grace that she and her brother are going to live on a farm outside Winnipeg, and that William is afraid of strangers.
At last, the train reaches Winnipeg. Aileen and Teddy help Grace and William disembark, and watch as they are greeted by a smiling couple who introduce themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Dent. Grace steps forward and shakes hands with both of them, but William hangs back, afraid. “I don’t want to go,” he whispers, “I want to stay with you.”
Teddy looks at Aileen and nods. Aileen gives the small bear a hug and hands him to William. “I’ll stay with you,” Teddy reassures the little boy. He watches a little sadly as Aileen boards the train again to accompany the remaining war guests further west. He wonders if he’ll ever see Aileen again.
Grace and William rapidly settle into their new lives with the Dents. They learn to feed chickens and gather eggs, milk cows, and help in the fields. They go to school, make friends, and write regular letters to their parents in England. Anytime William feels apprehensive, Teddy is there to help him. Boy and bear also talk about how their miss their loved ones back home.
The war goes on for five more years, not ending until William is ten years old. Then, at last, Grace and her brother can go home to England. One day, a short time after the children leave Canada, Aileen receives a package at the Montreal hospital where she works. It contains a letter from William and Grace, thanking her for allowing Teddy to spend the war with them. It also contains Teddy himself. Though he is sad to say good-bye to the children, the small bear is delighted to be home with Aileen.
Written by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat and illustrated by Brian Deines, and a sequel to A Bear in War, Bear on the Homefront recounts the story of two small children who are sent to Canada to escape the bombs in England and who spend World War II living with a family on a farm outside Winnipeg. Told from the perspective of the small teddy bear who offers to remain with children and keep them company, it captures the extraordinary experiences of Canada’s war guests. Beautifully written and illustrated, this lovely book is bound to touch the hearts and minds of young readers from age 4.
In September 1940, a passenger ship named the City of Benares left Liverpool for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Among its 400 passengers and crew, it carried ninety English child evacuees being sent away from the dangers and hardships of World War II to live out the duration of the war with foster families across Canada.
Thirteen-year-old Ken Sparks, from Wembley, is heading to his aunt Phyllis in Edmonton. With him gone, there will be more food for his father, stepmother and younger sister, and they might be able to let out his room to a boarder. Though he will missing little Mollie, Ken is eager for adventure and looks forward to drawing the City of Benares and the other ships in the convoy that accompanies it.
Bess Walder, almost fifteen, and her entire school are to be moved to the country when the new term starts but she doesn’t want to go. When she learns that CORB, the Children’s Overseas Reception Board, is sending children to Canada, Bess decides that she’d like to go to her mother’s aunt in Winnipeg. She works on her parents until they agree to let her and her younger brother Louis go.
There are many other children, too. Alan and his older brother Derek, little Joyce with her teddy bear and her brother Jack, Marion, Terry, a schoolmate of Ken Sparks, and Beth Cummings from Liverpool. Most of them meet for the first time when they board the special child evacuee train at London’s Euston Station. The train takes them to Liverpool where, after a two-day delay due to German bombing, the ninety evacuees and their adult accompaniers board the City of Benares.
Also on board are first class passengers, including Sonia Bech, eleven, her older sister Barbara, her younger brother Derek, and their mother, who will be living in Montreal until the war is over, and eleven-year-old Colin Richardson, heading to stay with family friends in New York. Colin is wearing the bright red lifejacket sewn by his mother which he has promised not to take off until he reaches Halifax.
Two days pass before the harbour is cleared of mines and the City of Benares and the other seventeen ships crossing the Atlantic in the same convoy can set sail. During those two days the CORB children explore the ship, enjoy games and activities, and enjoy eating treats most of them haven’t seen since before the war such as fresh fruit, eggs, chocolate and ice cream. They also practice lifeboat drills, and learn that at seven blasts of the whistle they must grab their lifejackets and go to their muster stations.
The convoy departs Liverpool on Friday, September 13th. A storm sets the ship to rocking and many of the children suffer from seasickness, but the storm passes and the nausea does, too. There are church services on the sports deck, followed by games, and a lavish tea party complete with cakes and party hats and favours.
Tired of being followed around by boys eager to see what he is drawing in his notebook, Ken starts climbing into Lifeboat 12 for some time alone. He is lying unseen in the lifeboat when, on Tuesday, September 17th, he overhears two sailors talking about a disagreement between the ship’s captain and the commodore of the convoy. The first argues that the City of Benares is beyond the reach of German U-boats, and almost in neutral American waters. The second insists that the ship remain with the convoy. In the end, the destroyer Winchelsea and the two corvettes protecting the convoy are called away. They will be some two hundred miles away when disaster strikes.
Minutes after ten o’clock that evening, Ken is awakened by an explosion. Water is rushing into his cabin. He grabs his lifejacket and wades through water toward the stairs that lead up to the deck. Realizing that he’s forgotten his father’s overcoat, he rushes back to his cabin. By the time he returns to his muster station, his lifeboat is gone. He ends up in Lifeboat 12, the last to be lowered into the sea, along with six other CORB boys, several adult accompaniers and members of the ship’s crew.
Bess must be rescued from her cabin by a sailor when a dresser falls in front of the door. She finds Beth in the corridor and helps her carry an injured child. Just as they reach them, the stairs collapse and they have to find another way up to the deck and their lifeboat. As she and Beth wait for their lifeboat to be lowered into the stormy sea, Bess realizes that she hasn’t seen her brother Louis.
Having delayed leaving the first class lounge, Sonia and her family miss the final lifeboat. Barbara manages to slide down the lines lowering one of the lifeboats to the water but Sonia, her brother Derek and their mother must jump from the now low-lying stern of the ship onto a raft some ten feet below that a sailor named Tommy Milligan is doing his best to control.
Many of the lifeboats tip their passengers into the sea as they are lowered. Others are swamped by the enormous wave that rises up after the City of Benares disappears below the waves. Bess and Beth are pitched into the water but manage to find and cling to the keel of their overturned lifeboat along with some of its other former occupants. Looking around hours later, the girls realize they are the only ones still hanging on. They find a length of rope and tie their wrists together, one on one side of the hull, one on the other. By morning all signs of the City of Benares and its 400 passengers and crew have vanished.
Lifeboat 12 is crowded and gets more as, in the minutes after the sinking, crew members pull other survivors aboard. Ken takes a turn at the Fleming gears that operate the propellor and, for a time, thinks the night is a great adventure. His boat meets up with another lifeboat in the dark, one from the Marina, a ship in their convoy that has also torpedoed and sunk by German U-boats.
Just before dawn on the September 18th, Sonia, her brother and mother, and Tommy Milligan are taken aboard another of the Marina’s lifeboats. Though it’s a small vessel, it is well provisioned with blankets and tins of condensed milk. Within hours the lifeboat are spotted by HMS Hurricane, a destroyer sent to look for survivors.
At 5 o’clock that evening Bess and Beth are still clinging to their overturned lifeboat when a mirage appears, that of a destroyer. Bess tries to call out but her voice won’t co-operated. She hallucinates and black out before she and Beth are pulled from the water. They awaken in the captain’s cabin aboard HMS Hurricane, both badly injured after nineteen hours in the sea. The girls are well looked after but Bess in mired in grief over Louis’ death and guilt because she knows she is the reason he was aboard the City of Benares. She is shocked and overjoyed when the Captain arrives with something he believes she might have lost, her brother Louis.
The Hurricane reaches at the port of Glasgow on Friday, September 17th to huge crowds of reporters eager to speak to survivors. Beth and Bess are transported to hospital with Louis, who refuses to leave his sister. When Beth’s mother arrives to fetch her home to Liverpool, the two girls promise to write each other every day. When, at last, Bess and Louis’ mother comes, the siblings learn that their house has been bombed. For Bess, who spend those long hours in the sea dreaming of home, it is a hard blow. So too are the many letters she has received from the grieving families of CORB children who died, letters which she answers sharing recollections of their sons and daughters.
The lifeboat containing crew from the Marina decide to sail for the coast of Ireland only hours after meeting up with Lifeboat 12. Laden with forty-six survivors, Officer Cooper decides to wait for rescue by the Royal Navy but by sunset the following day he concluded that their lifeboat has been missed by the searchers. They, too, will have to make for Ireland, some six days to the east.
Three times a day, each person aboard gets a small beaker of water, a dry ship’s biscuit, and a sardine. Though Auntie Mary, one of the adults accompanying the CORB children does her best to look after Ken and the other boys, it isn’t long before exposure and lack of fresh water cause debilitating leg cramps and swelling of the feet. By their third day in the overcrowded lifeboat, any sense of adventure is gone, replaced by listlessness, despondency and a quiet desperation. By the fourth day, many are no longer eating the biscuits or the sardines and sit or lie in their assigned spots overcome by periods of deliriousness. On the fifth day, they spot a destroyer in the distance and shout and wave things to get its attention but the ship sails away. Two days later, one of the Indian crew members throws off his clothes and leaps into the water to his death.
It is Ken Sparks who looks up, on Wednesday, September 25th, and sees the plane flying overhead. Officer Cooper orders him and everyone else to lie down, afraid that it might be an enemy aircraft, but Ken, who has spent hours studying and drawing ships and planes, recognizes it as a Sutherland Flying Ship. He rips off his shirt and waves it wildly, soon joined by others waving and shouting. Within hours, they are aboard HMS Anthony, and Father Sullivan, one of the CORB accompaniers, tells Ken, “Say a prayer to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things.”
The boys rescued by the Anthony are greeted by huge crowds in Glasgow, and invited by the mayor himself to stay until their parents can come for them. Ken is confused by the excitement and wonders, too, where the other survivors of the City of Benares are. Only then do he and the other boys discover that there are almost no other survivors. Of the ninety child evacuees who set sail from Liverpool, only thirteen returned to England. Ken travels back to London by train with the family of another survivor and then took the underground to Wembley Station. He was greeted with tears of joy by neighbours and his family.
Written by Amanda West Lewis, September 17 tells the true story of the sinking of the passenger ship City of Benares as it travelled to Halifax in 1940 carrying ninety children who were being evacuated to Canada from war-ravaged England. This gripping World War II story follows the experiences of three children, Ken, Bess and Sonia, as they fight exhaustion, dehydration, the cold and the sea in their struggle to survive. A wonderful book for readers from Grade 5.
Nine-year-old Tom lives on his family’s small dairy farm in the Fraser River valley. He loves listening to stories about the Lone Ranger on the radio every Sunday night. He imagines himself as the masked lawman, his dog Amos standing in for his horse Silver. Tom has secretly cast Peggy, his friend from across the road, as Tonto but hasn’t told her because he knows she also likes to play the hero.
One afternoon in late May 1948, Tom and Peggy wander down to the riverbank to play the Lone Ranger, and notice that the river has flooded its banks, rising as high as the wall of sandbags that soldiers put up a few years earlier. That evening, as he is doing his chores in the cow barn, Tom mentions to his parents that the river is high. Though his mother and father are quick to reassure him, the boy notices that they both look worried.
In the middle of the night, there is a knock on the door. A flood warning has been issued, and volunteers are needed to build up the sandbags. Tom’s father goes with Peggy’s father and older brothers to help.
On their way to school, the following morning, Tom and Peggy discover that several of the fields they cross are wet. No sooner does school start than their teacher announces that the town has declared a state of emergency and all students are being sent home to help their families prepare for the flood. Fields that were wet just an hour before are flooded when Tom and Peggy make their way home, forcing them to remove their shoes and socks and wade in water up to their knees.
At home, Tom helps his mother cart furniture from the main floor of the farmhouse upstairs. By the time everything is moved, the cow barn is surrounded by water, and Tom has to rescue a calf who has become separated from his mother by the flood. Peggy arrives on her bicycle to tell them that she, her mother and her younger brother are being evacuated to Vancouver. She also tells Tom and his mother that many local farmers are moving their cows to the graveyard which is built on the only hill around.
Determined to rescue their livestock, Tom and his mother load the pickup truck with necessities and begin a long, hard walk to safety. Knowing that the lead cow will follow her calf and that the rest of the herd will follow her, Tom coaxes the little animal along the road with a handful of sweet grass. Amos and Tom, the calf, the cows and the old pickup truck, they make an odd parade. When, at last, they reach the graveyard, Tom and his mother discover lots of cows and a city of tents. Though it will be weeks before the flood waters recede and his family can go home, Tom is proud to have helped to save their herd. Just like the Lone Ranger, he’s done his best to do the right thing.
Written by Jacqueline Pearce, Flood Warning is the story of a young boy’s experiences during the 1948 Fraser River flood. Tom, who dreams of the Lone Ranger, is a perfect mix of daring and fear, determination and exhaustion, and Pearce has done a fine job of weaving his story with that of the flood. A lovely book for readers from Grade 4!
Every day after school, Dora works in her father’s clothing store on Spadina Avenue, and every day she pauses outside the store windows to speak to the mannequins who model the sober, dark ladies’ suits and dress sold inside.
“Someday I’ll give you outfits that sparkle,” she promises them.
“Yes. Yes. Yes,” whisper the mannequins, “Dora the Designer.”
Dora’s job is to fold together cardboard boxes, notch pattern pieces for the seamstresses can fit them together, and tidy the sewing room floor. While her father strives to keep designers, cutters and seamstresses producing, Dora looks around the room and sees the possibilities. Backwards dresses, unusual colours, sequins and ribbons and rickrack, she imagines them all.
Dora would like to have a sewing machine for a pet, something for the mannequins to visit with when they came to visit. At break time, she practices sewing, running up a scarf of pink and red fabrics and decorated with brocade ribbon. Miss Avery, the designer, tells her pink and red don’t go together, but the seamstresses proclaim the scarf ‘cute.’
When workers have gone home and Papa is doing the books, Dora visits the mannequins who, in the darkened shop and their dark colours, look sad.
“You need some colour…some style,” she decides.
“Yes. Yes. Yes,” the mannequins agree.
Dora finds a pair of scissors and sets to work transforming the remnants pile and some notions begged from her father into scarfs and wraps and hats. She threads wooden spools and buttons into colourful necklaces. And she adorns the mannequins with her creations, who laugh in delight.
Too soon, Murphy, the cleaner, arrives, and Dora realizes it is time that she clean up for the day. Before she can remove her creations from the mannequins in the store window, her father announces that it is time go home.
Dora races to her father’s store after school the following day, and stops when she sees the crowd gathered outside the store windows. Some of the shoppers think the display is ridiculous but others call it creative, daring, innovative.
Dora is apprehensive when she sees her father and the stern look on his face. However Papa explains that, though he doesn’t know why, people seem to like her scarf so he hasn’t removed her display. The mannequins cheer as her father looks at her as if he’s seeing her clearly for the first time, and agrees that she is “Dora…the Designer.”
Written by Sydell Waxman and illustrated by Patty Gallinger, My Mannequins tells the story of a young girl who works every day after school in her father’s ladies clothing store, and dreams of bringing a little colour and verve to the sombre outfits worn by the mannequins in the window. This lovely book celebrates the power of the imagination and the generations of immigrants, many of them Jews, who worked in the garment trade on Spadina Avenue from the 1930s to the 1950s. Thank you to Joel K who loaned me a copy of My Mannequins.
In the Ste-Justine of Roch’s childhood, all the boys live to play hockey at the local outdoor rink. Sitting at their desks in school, they plot their next strategies. At church, they pray that God would make them play as well as Maurice Richard.
Rocket Richard, the Montreal Canadiens’ right-winger is their idol. They all comb their hair like him, lace up their skates like him, and they all wear his number 9 on the backs of their red, white and blue Canadiens sweaters.
Life and hockey are good to young Roch until one day his mother notices that his hockey sweater has become too small. Sitting at the kitchen table, she writes a letter to M. Eaton, president of the Eaton’s catalogue company, and requests that he send a new Canadiens sweater big enough for her ten-year-old son. The new hockey sweater fits perfectly but, to Roch’s horror, bears the colours and logo of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canadiens’ chief rivals.
The boy refuses to wear the new sweater, but his mother refuses to return it to the Eaton’s company, arguing that to do so would offend M. Eaton. Faced with the prospect of not playing hockey, Roch puts on the blue and white sweater and heads to the rink. Taking his usual position on the ice, he is told that he will be playing the second line but, when the second line hits the ice, Roch finds himself still sitting on the sidelines.
After a teammate ends up with a bloody nose, the boy leaps up, only to given a penalty by the young curé who is referring the game. Roch loses his temper, accuses the referee and his team of persecution, and breaks his hockey stick in frustration. He is sent to the church to pray for forgiveness. Instead, he prays that God will send moths to eat his wretched Maple Leafs hockey sweater.
Written by celebrated Canadian author Roch Carrier and illustrated by Sheldon Cohen, The Hockey Sweater tells the story of a young boy’s – and a whole Quebec village’s – love for the game of hockey and the Montreal Canadiens, and what happens when, by accident, that boy ends up in a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater rather than the red, white and blue sweater of the Canadiens. Carrier’s iconic tale and Cohen’s evocative folk art illustrations have made this a Canadian classic in both official languages! A must-read for every Canadian!
On the eve of his first trip to the cabane à sucre, Paul’s Grand-mère recalls her first visit there sixty years before. With her family, she travelled out by sleigh to Tante Loulou’s sugar bush, near Mont-Saint-Hilaire, and spent a perfect day playing outside in the early spring air with her sisters, her cousins and the children of family friends. Then everyone went into the cabane à sucre and sat at long tables to eat baked beans and potatoes and eggs and pancakes, all served with maple syrup. Dinner is followed by dancing to the sound of fiddles and an accordion before everyone heads back outside to enjoy la tire, maple taffy poured onto the snow.
Beautifully illustrated by the colourful and evocative folk paintings of Gilles Pelletier, Jonathan London’s The Sugaring-Off Party recounts an old woman’s fondly remembered first trip to the sugar bush, and recalls a time when the first warm days of spring were a cause for celebration in Québec. A wonderful book for young Canadians from age 4!
A young black woman in Nova Scotia refuses to move to the upper balcony of a New Glasgow movie theatre.
One day in 1946, Viola Desmond, a young Black woman from Halifax and owner of a beauty salon there, got into her car to drive to another town in Nova Scotia. On the way, her car broke down and she found herself in New Glasgow with several hours to spend while a mechanic fixed it.
Noticing the Roseland Theatre, Viola purchased a ticket for the movie and found herself a seat close enough to the screen that she could enjoy it. No sooner had she made herself comfortable than an usher tapped her on the shoulder and informed her that she had purchased a cheap ticket and would have to move to the theatre balcony.
When she replied that she liked her seat and would happily pay for the more expensive seat, Viola discovered that at the Roseland Theatre people of colour were not permitted to sit on the main floor. The young woman is sad and scared, but she is also angry. She reiterates her offer to pay for the more expensive seat and refuses to move from it. Eventually, the manager calls the police who forcibly remove her and put her in the local jail.
The following morning, Viola is taken before a judge and fined twenty dollars for failing to pay the proper ticket price. She pays her fine and returns to Halifax where the local Black community mounts a legal appeal of her fine. The case goes to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court where the judges sidestep the issue of racial segregation and uphold her fine.
However Viola’s stand inspires Black Nova Scotians in their fight for equality. It will take more than a decade but by the late 1950’s racial segregation will be made illegal in Nova Scotia.
Written by Jody Nyasha Warner and illustrated by Richard Rudnicki, Viola Desmond Won’t be Budged! is the true story of one young Black woman’s refusal to move to the back of a Nova Scotia movie theatre, and how her actions galvanized the equal rights movement in that province during the 1940s and 50s. Warner’s powerful prose resonates, especially when read aloud, and are wonderfully illustrated by Rudnicki’s glowing paintings. A must-read for Canadians from age 5.
It is young Savino’s first day of work in the Glace Bay coal mine. Before dawn, and with his lunch can in hand, he sets off with his father and the other miners along the cliffside path toward the mine head, thinking as he walks of the stories he’s heard, some strange and some frightening, about the mine.
As he takes his place in the rake box for the two-mile trip under the ocean, Savino looks forward to seeing Nelson, the little pit pony he helped his father choose two years before. He has brought a carrot for Nelson, and laughs when the pony nudges his pocket for it.
Once the pony is attached to his coal box, his father tells Savino to hold onto the coal box and then turns out their mine lamps. Savino and his father set out through a maze of pitch dark tunnels to where the miners are working the coal face. It seems that Nelson relies on another sense to find his way through the mine.
All morning, Savino works with his father shovelling coal into the pony’s coal box, and following Nelson through the tunnels to the rail car where they unload the coal before returning the the coal face for another load. The boy’s hands blister and his arms ache, but he doesn’t complain.
After lunch, Savino’s father asks to take a box of coal up to the rail car on his own, and though he is scared, he sets off with Nelson. Boy and pony run into a mine cave in. As Savino tries to clear the rubble from the track, his pit lamp goes out. The young boy panics in the sudden darkness until Nelson reassures him and leads him safely back to his father.
At the end of their shift, the last before the mine closes for the annual week-long holiday, Savino’s father and the other miners lead the pit ponies up the two miles of sloping tunnels to the surface to enjoy their own week in the sun.
Written by Anne Laurel Carter and illustrated by Nicolas Debon, Out of the Deeps tells the story of a young boy’s first day working in a Cape Breton coal mine along side his miner father, and celebrates both the men and boys who worked the mines and pit ponies who laboured next to them. A wonderful book for readers from 4 years old.
When Miss Buxton tells her students that on White Gift Sunday this year she would like everyone in the Sunday School class to bring a gift for a child in England who, because of the war, won’t be getting Christmas presents at all this year, Sally is torn. Her Sunday School teacher has told them that they must give something of their own, something that is just like new, something that they really love. She knows it cannot be one of her books because they are all worn from re-reading. She will have to choose one of her three dolls, Thelma, Susie or Ann Marie.
Thelma, her oldest doll, has a thorn head and one eye that droops closed. Susie, a rubber doll, wears the scars of an altercation with the dog next door. It will have to be Ann Marie, the beautiful doll with her long eyelashes, golden braids, red plaid skirt, green velvet jacket, flower-trimmed straw hat.
On the Saturday before White Sunday, Sally carefully places Ann Marie in a shoebox her mother has found, tucks in a note addressed to the girl to whom her doll would be given, and wraps her present in white tissue paper and ribbon. The following morning, she places her gift at the front of the church beside the wooden baby Jesus. It is hard to walk away and leave it there.
In the days and weeks that follow, Sally often asks her parents about Ann Marie. In her mind, she traces her doll’s journey down the St Lawrence and across the Atlantic to England. When her older brother, Jim mentions that he hopes her ship hasn’t been torpedoed, Sally bursts into tears. On Christmas day she thinks about the little girl opening the box and reaching inside for Ann Marie. In late March, the postman hands Sally a letter with English stamps. It is from Deborah, thanking her for the doll, and asking if they could be penpals.
Written by Ainslie Manson and charmingly illustrated by Karen Reczuch, Just Like New is the story of a special doll and the young girl who give her up so that some child in wartime England can have a present at Christmas. Manson captures the “doing one’s part” spirit that defined Canadians’ attitudes and behaviour during World War II, a spirit that burned as brightly in young children as it did in their parents. A lovely story for children from age 4!