Thursday, May 30, 2013

Shelf Life [kids]

Yesterday’s Dead by Pat Bourke, 254 pages.


World War I is just ending and to help support her mother and younger sister, 13-year-old Meredith has had to move to Toronto in order to work as a servant in a well-to-do doctor’s home.

Her life as a servant is difficult. There is so much work to do, and a strict butler criticizes Meredith’s work continually.  It seems that she can do nothing properly in his eyes. The doctor’s spoiled daughter, Maggie, insults and puts Meredith down at every opportunity.

Then catastrophe strikes with the arrival of the Spanish Flu Epidemic.  People in Toronto fall ill by the hundreds. Some recover but many do not, for there is no cure.  Victims quickly develop pneumonia, and some die in less than 24 hours.

To stop the spread of the flu, residents of the city are told to stay home.

In the doctor’s house, all of the staff and then the family members, except Maggie, sicken with the flu. The doctor is needed at the busy city hospital both day and night, so Meredith, with Maggie’s reluctant help, is forced to take charge of the household herself, nursing the others as best as she can through the long days and nights. It is exhausting, mind-numbing work. Every day, a growing list of “Yesterday’s Dead” appears in the local newspaper and every day, Meredith fears for her own family at home.

Meredith’s poignant story ends happily, with her family safe, but many real-life children in Toronto and elsewhere became orphans when the Spanish flu raged through the city and around the world in 1918-1919. The illness often struck healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 45 years. In Toronto alone, 1700 people died of the flu - a sizeable portion of the city’s population at the time.

** Recommended for ages 9 to 12 years.

Day of the Cyclone by Penny Draper, 176 pages.


In Regina, Saskatchewan, Ella Barclay, daughter of a wealthy banker, has received a very special present – a Kodak “Brownie” camera - for her 13th birthday. She is thrilled, for few people own a camera in the year 1912.

Most people are happy to have their photo taken, so Ella is very surprised when Billy, a new boy at school, is angry when she takes his picture. (Much later in the story, she discovers the reason for his anger.)

Ella has no idea that in the next few days, she and her “Brownie” will record the massive destruction left by the “Regina Cyclone”, the deadliest tornado in Canadian history. Her camera will also record some important evidence which will help to prove Billy’s innocence when he is falsely accused of a crime.

Penny Draper’s newest book skillfully blends a fast-paced story with a true historical event and actual social issues at that time, such as the treatment of “home children” and ethnic minorities, discrimination, women’s rights and poverty.  Useful background information about the Regina Cyclone is provided at the end of the book.

** Recommended for ages 9 to 12 years.

This review appears in The Stratford Gazette on May 30, 2013. Written by Sally Hengeveld, Librarian.

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