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Book Reviews

Laura: A Childhood Tale of Laura Secord

by Maxine Trottier, Karen Reczuch, illus.

Laura Secord’s Brave Walk

by Connie Brummel Crook, June Lawrason, illus.

Recent news articles suggest that children are growing up ignorant of their country’s history. One way of counteracting this is to introduce them early to stories that make the past seem exciting and intriguing. Picture books are an ideal medium for this message. (If you’re wondering why two books about Laura Secord appear now, this year is the 225th anniversary of her birth.)

Maxine Trottier, author of many historical picture books, imagines a moment from Laura Secord’s childhood. One hot day young Laura cannot find the family’s milk cow, Peg, in her usual shady spot under the apple tree and must search deep in the forest for her. Although this is the long-settled countryside of Massachusetts, not the wild Niagara frontier to which Laura later emigrated, the forest is still a scary place. Stories of children lost forever in the woods would have been part of Laura’s family lore. But Laura shows the pluck that will later make her famous, as she ignores the brambles and branches that catch at her clothes and the mosquitoes that torment her. Finally, in the marsh, Laura finds Peg who has just calved, and is herself found by a group of native Mohicans – a foreshadowing of how she will later be helped by Mohawk warriors. This story can be read, very satisfactorily, as simply an incident in the life of a plucky pioneer girl, but it also prepares young minds to understand how the adult Laura could undertake a more daunting walk.

Connie Brummel Crook’s picture book tells the later story. Laura and her husband, James Secord, now live on the Niagara frontier. As American forces cross the river, the Secords are caught up in the War of 1812. We see James going off to fight in the nearby battle while Laura hides her children in the root cellar. Later, when American soldiers order Laura to prepare them a meal, she overhears their plan to attack the British at Beaver Dams. James has been wounded at Queenston Heights and so Laura sets off on her “brave walk.” This story is for slightly older readers than Trottier’s book, taking place as it does at a precise historical moment. Crook, who writes YA historical fiction, provides young readers with some context about the war in James’s brief statement, “General Brock needs more soldiers. I must fight to save our country.”

In both stories, the reader’s understanding of the past is greatly enhanced by well-rendered illustrations. For Laura, Karen Reczuch creates a generic farm and forest background, with only Laura’s clothes and the appearance of the native people giving clues to its setting in the past. But her skill in depicting facial expressions and body language adds tension and atmosphere to an already gripping story. In Laura Secord’s Brave Walk, June Lawrason skilfully handles the more difficult task of showing the Secords’ home life and also battlefield chaos.

Trottier’s Laura works very well for children nine and under, but it would be a shame to limit Laura Secord’s Brave Walk to an equally young readership. The story is complex enough to involve older readers. With intermediate students, teachers could very effectively use this as a read-aloud to introduce the War of 1812 and stimulate discussion about battlefield conditions then as well as the effects of war on families.