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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Settlers' woes seen through teen's eyes

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IT'S appropriate that as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the first Selkirk settlers in Manitoba there should be a book launched for young people about the trials and tribulations that awaited those early pioneers.

Red River Rising by Cochrane, Alta., author B.J. Bayle (Dundurn, 273 pages, $13 paperback) tells their story through the eyes of 15-year-old Angus Fraser, a fictional character based on a composite of a number of the settlers who sailed from Scotland in 1813.

The hardships faced by these unprepared newcomers, from disease on shipboard to wintering in tents near the shore of Hudson Bay, and their dismay to be caught in the warfare between the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company, is told in realistic detail.

We agonize with the Fraser family as they lose a son and struggle to build a home only to have it burned down, but refuse to give up on Selkirk's unfortunate settlement.

Although the bibliography supplied suggests Bayle has done a considerable amount of research, it is still difficult at times to keep straight the justification and the persons involved in many of the clashes.

However, by keeping the spotlight on Angus, who manages to be part of every adventure, Bayle maintains the suspense and makes this an entertaining and instructive read.

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In Last Airlift, Brantford, Ont., author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch told the story of how a Vietnamese orphan, Tuyet, was rescued from an orphanage in Saigon and found a new life with a family in Brantford. In One Step at a Time (Pajama Press, 128 pages, $13 paperback), Skrypuch continues Tuyet's story and tells how Tuyet bravely faced many operations to correct a leg that was crippled by polio in Vietnam.

While the story is told from Tuyet's viewpoint, it is a non-fiction account, written for an eight-12 age group and illustrated with black-and-white photographs of Tuyet and the Morrises, who became her family.

Skrypuch, who has published a number of both picture books and juvenile novels, many on the theme of Ukrainian immigration, does a good job of portraying Tuyet's feelings as she faces the uncertainties of a new country, a new home and frightening surgery.

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For lighter fare, teen readers will welcome another of Markham, Ont., author Helene Boudreau's "real mermaid" series in Real Mermaids Don't Hold Their Breath (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 233 pages, US$7 paperback).

Jade isn't entirely comfortable with her new ability to grow a tail when she hits water, but since her mother is caught in a landlocked pond, she needs to enter the water to rescue her. It helps that she has discovered that her friend Luke also is one of the "mer people."

Can they manage to save her mother before the monster mall owner fills in the pond to make a bigger parking lot? Stay tuned for lots of improbable but entertaining adventures.

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Young readers (four-eight years) will love Massachusetts author and illustrator Jan Brett's wonderful paintings in Mossy (Putnam's, 32 pages, $19 hardcover). Brett's art work, which has illustrated dozens of children's books, is lavish and gorgeous with incredible details in the margins.

This is a story of a turtle who grows a whole garden of wonderful plants and flowers on her back, only to be plucked from her native habitat to live in a terrarium in a museum.

Luckily, with the help of a little girl and a sympathetic museum curator, she finally finds her way back to her home turf.

 

Winnipegger Helen Norrie is a longtime children's literature specialist. Her column appears on the third Saturday of the month.

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 15, 2012 J9

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