Wednesday 9 December 2015

Uprooted: a Canadian war story by Lynne Reid Banks

Uprooted: a Canadian war story by Lynne Reid Banks (HarperCollins, 2014)

28 chapters; 335 pages with chapter heading illustrations

Subjects: World War Two, Canada, evacuees, junior fiction (Year 5-8)

I went into this book with few expectations, maybe because the subject of evacuees has been written about so much already. But after a few chapters, I realised I haven’t read many books about the experience from a Canadian perspective.  

One reason I liked it is that it is not only a war story but also a coming-of-age story that covers many topics: loneliness, friendship, the degree of freedom that children enjoyed back then, a growing understanding of adult relationships, the difficulty of maintaining a marriage under the stresses of distance and war. It also gives a memorable picture of the Canadian landscape (especially in winter), so different from the English countryside.

It’s summer 1940, and as war rages across Europe, ten-year-old Lindy travels by boat and then train to Saskatoon, Canada, with her Mother and her smart cousin Cameron. Canada is a long way from home but it is also full of exciting new adventures. This story is inspired by the author’s own childhood experience and her time in Canada, which must be why many of the details sound so convincing: icebergs floating in the Atlantic Ocean, the three-day train trip across the plains, playground games, Hallowe’en, skating and tobogganing in winter and holidays at the lake in summer.

Lindy’s reactions are convincing; she keeps being offered Coke to drink, but finds it sweet and sickly; she revels in a hot deep bubble bath after “the three-inches-of-hot-water ones we’d been rationed to at home”; she marvels at the powdery snow, so different from wet English snow, and the deceptive cold that can give you frostbite without your noticing.  She picks up Canadian words (candies for sweets) and relishes all the new foods: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, waffles with maple syrup, pork spare ribs cooked with brown sugar.  

She and Cameron have to cope with feelings of guilt at being safe and far from danger when London is being bombarded by bombs, as shown on the newsreels at the cinema. Is it okay for them to be happy? How do they come to terms with not being there? 

Author’s website
Lynne Reid Banks’ best-known book for children is probably The Indian in the cupboard. On her website, you can “Read my latest news, my interview with myself, and see an array of photographs and videos, and you can even listen to me read from some of my books.”

I couldn’t resist the interview, which she wrote for the very good reason thatI've been interviewed many times, but the interviewers hardly ever ask me the questions I wish they would! So here is me, interviewing myself.” (And it’s a very funny interview!)

Excuse me.
I thought you were supposed to be interviewing me.
Sorry, I got a bit carried away. After all, writing for a living is a great life, if you don't weaken, and can keep the ideas coming.
Aren't you going to ask me which is my favourite book, and to give tips for young writers, and all that?
No. How could we have a favourite book, we love them all and are proud of them, just like our children.

Other books you might like
There are lots of other books about evacuees, such as Ronnie’s war by Bernard Ashley, Carrie’s war by Nina Bawden and When the sirens wailed by Noel Streatfeild.

NZ connections
I made a nice personal link on pg 175 where Lindy talks about how terrible her handwriting was because she was still “trying to learn Canadian cursive”.

Things I didn’t know
Lots of things! For starters, I didn’t know that evacuees to Canada were called “war guests”. This was apparently because “Canadians are usually very polite and nobody wanted to hurt our feelings by calling us evacuees”.

I didn’t know that government war time restrictions meant that women who went to Canada with their children weren’t allowed to take more than ten pounds per person out of the country. This small amount was soon exhausted, so they were completely reliant on the charity of the people who offered them a home. This often put them in difficult situations, and eventually so many families complained to their Members of Parliament that the restrictions were lifted. 

I vaguely remembered hearing about a ship carrying evacuees that was torpedoed and sunk. In the book this ship isn’t named, but it could have been the City of Benares – or the Volendam.

I liked the details about the First Peoples that Lindy found out from visiting her neighbours, and was sorry when they disappeared quite abruptly from the story.

I liked the description of the river ice breaking up at the end of winter, and how the children laid bets on the day and time it would happen.

Have you read it?
Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!