Quill and Quire

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Charlotte

by Janet Lunn, Brian Deines, illus.

As her many fans well know, Janet Lunn is an aficionado of both American and Canadian history. Her YA novels Shadow in Hawthorn Bay, The Root Cellar, and The Hollow Tree attest to her historicity as well as her outstanding ability as a teller of tales. In Charlotte, she takes on the far more difficult task of creating a picture book that stimulates interest in the past on the part of beginning readers.

Charlotte is 10, living in New York as the eight-year American Revolutionary War comes to its close. Loyalties are as divided in the aftermath of the fighting as during it. Charlotte’s stern father is a patriot; her kinder uncle and her two beloved cousins are among those to be transported as traitors to Canada. Lunn builds to a climax in which Charlotte’s father, almost unbelievably, puts his young daughter out of his house because she disobeyed him in going to say farewell to her cousins. Charlotte is taken in by her uncle and his family and travels with them into exile in New Brunswick. She lived to become the grandmother of Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley, a premier of New Brunswick and a Father of Confederation.

All in all, Charlotte is a model of fictionalized biography for primary school children. The history component is accurately but simply acknowledged; the emotional thrust of the book is based on one memorable episode; there is a theme beyond the events. Charlotte reminds us that children are innocent victims of war. The prose is crisp and clear, strong in nouns and verbs rather than adjectives and adverbs. The coloured paintings by Brian Deines, a Toronto artist, most of them full-paged, recreate the time and place with realistic details. The cover is a picture of Charlotte pelting home through a sudden rain, ruining her thin kid slippers as she prays that her father will not be at home. The illustrator has wisely used the slipper as a kind of symbol of the child’s vulnerability.