As a parent I often have this insatiable urge to shield my daughter from the unpleasant things in life. Whether in song verse (you’d be amazed at how negative, macabre and downright scary some popular children’s songs are if you really listened to them. I mean “down will come baby cradle and all” isn’t the nicest image is it?!) or topics, TV shows, movies or even downright sad stories, I fight to keep her world as lovely and happy as possible.
But that isn’t very realistic is it and quite frankly I often have to check this creating-a-bubble impulse to ensure I am not leading my lass into some la-la land world which will be more of a detriment than anything to my darling girl.
Stories are great for a parent like me because they give me a vehicle for introducing things to my child I may otherwise shirk away from. There is certainly a role for introducing difficult subjects into narratives for children. I think it helps them process and absorb things like death, grief, loss, evil, cruelty, meanness in a safer more abstract manner (helps us parents too!) and encourages conversation.
I was thinking of such things as I first started Stones for my Father by Trilby Kent (ISBN: 9781770492523, Tundra Books, 2011) for the Tundra blog tour.
It’s not that this book is compelling right from the start, it is wholly absorbing, it’s just that Corlie Roux’s story isn’t the happiest one. This suits me, as an adult reader just fine, but I kept wondering how the target audience, ages 11 and up, would react to such a less than ideal tale of a young girl’s experience in the Boer Wars or “freedom wars” as they were known to the Afrikaans who lived there.
The more I thought the more I realized that not everyone has parents who are as idealistic (and neurotic perhaps?) as I am and their reality is that they are often faced with less than ideal circumstances themselves even if it’s the urban jungle or a challenging family situation that is their fate and then this would be a book that would resonate particularly with such a reader.
As I read more about Corlie’s experiences, as often the brunt of her mother’s wrath, the instability of the world she lives in (the Transvaal during the Boer Wars), her persistent grief at the loss of her doting dad and her emerging awareness of the great divide of race and prejudice, it’s not hard to love this harsh tale.
Like Kent, the main character Corlie is a storyteller and often she uses her tales to comfort herself and her brothers through the many hardships and upheaval they experience in a very short period of time. I love this part of her and it speaks to her resilience and makes her that much more endearing.
I also love the Canadian component of this book, as Corlie comes to depend on a soldier from the faraway and exotic sounding land of Canada. This part of the story is great for young Canadian readers to understand our role in the Boer Wars and how really how our place in many conflicts, past and present.
Bringing me to my final point, I thought this book was a great introduction to the impact that war has on children and began to realize how important that was for generating understanding, compassion and a certain level of humanity for Canadian kids as an accompaniment to many of the media images and movie scenes they see. There is a tendency to become desensitized to what really happens in times of conflict and how there are feelings, emotions and people on both sides.
This is an essential lesson in a country like ours which not only affords her citizens a relatively peaceful existence but also welcomes people for all over the world who may have not lived one thus far.
Trilby Kent was born in Toronto and grew up on both sides of the Atlantic. She completed degrees at both the prestigious Oxford University and the London School of Economics and worked in the rare books department at Bonhams and journalism before turning her sights to writing for young people.
Not one to shy away from stories of children in challenging historical situations (maybe it’s her cool and somewhat old-fashioned literary name or something), Medina Hill (Tundra Books), also features the story of 11-year-old mute Dominique in grimy London in 1935. His mother is sick and his father’s unemployed and holds on to his love for Lawrence of Arabia as he goes with his Uncle Roo and sister to a boarding house in Cornwall.
I like how Kent takes some long-ago time and makes it resonate with today. I also love that she told this story from the perspective of a smart, imaginative, resourceful girl who also is gifted with the narrative.
Kent’s latest book, from the haunting image on the cover to the engrossing read inside, will surely evoke thought and emotion, and if you are a lucky parent, perhaps an opportunity for talking with your child.
Want to win your own copy? Just leave a comment on this post on why you would like to read this book and you are entered to win! I will draw the winner at the end of this week and post the results here so check back…