I am so ludicrously excited about this I cannot wait one more week! I have finally gotten my hands onto a copy of a My Story book, which are the UK versions of the Dear America/Dear Canada books, and this one—believe it!—is by Frances Mary Hendry! Who wrote Quest for a Maid! Yes!!!!!
Young Nanny: A Victorian Girl’s Diary, 1850, Frances Mary Hendry, 2001.
Also, in the UK this book was £6.99 and buy-one-get-one-free, which I would have definitely taken up on, but somehow at some point in its life wound up in a Goodwill with a blue sticker for 50 cents. Where do I find this magical Goodwill that has all these historical children and young adult books? I need to go there. Every time I’m at a Goodwill it’s 99% weird cookbooks (Cooking with Spiders and Other Insect Parts and Meat: Boil It To Death!) and those romance novels with the white covers with the picture in the middle that are all called, like, The Cowboy’s Baby and Cowboys Home for Christmas because who even knows. And 1% child-raising books from 1985.
Anyway, one of the things that I love the most about this book (and Hendry in general) is that her characters are completely believable as really being in the times they’re set in. Lily, the young nanny of the title and our heroine, is a maid in the home of Joseph Paxton, the brains behind the Crystal Palace of the Exhibition in 1851. Her biggest goal in life is to be Housekeeper at Chatsworth, which is a huge deal—Chatsworth is an enormous and stately home, and housekeeper was basically the head of all the female servants in the house (which in a place like Chatsworth would number into the hundreds). So Lily has ambitions, but they’re totally appropriate for a young servant in 1850. I mean, it’s not like “she wants to go to college and become the first female PM,” because that’s just not realistic for the time. But Lily is determined, and consequently does her best to be the best housemaid she can possibly be.
I feel compelled to start off every single Dear Canada review with “my God, this book is super depressing.” This one is no different, because of course not. Probably because it’s about the Acadian Expulsion, one of the most depressing events in Canadian history, and doesn’t improve from there.
Banished from Our Home: The Acadian Diary of Angélique Richard, Grand-Pré, Acadia, 1755, Sharon Stewart, 2004.
I went to graduate school in New Brunswick, and consequently learned a fair bit about the Acadians, but I am in no way an expert in this part of history (other than, as I mentioned, “depressing.”) And if you are very unlucky and get stuck with an Acadian person obsessed with the past, they will be happy to tell you all about the Expulsion, on and on and on in unending, depressing detail, the likes of which would make a history teacher thrill to hear. But luckily you don’t need to need any background to enjoy (“enjoy”) this story!
Angélique is one of eight children on a farm in Grand-Pre, where her family has lived for many years, and political pressure is making things difficult for everyone. One of her older brothers, Victor, is joining up with the rebels who are fighting against the British, which puts him and the rest of their family in grave danger. (At this point, Britain had conquered France and won Acadia, which means they were trying to anglicize the area and tamp down pro-French sentiment in the countryside. I know this is badly, badly simplified, please do not comment or email me to give me a history of the Acadians, I know.)
I’ve had this blog for two years and I haven’t even touched a book out of this series yet! What’s wrong with me? (I was convinced these books are boring, that’s what.)
Graves Of Ice: The Lost Franklin Expedition, George Chambers, The Northwest Passage, 1845¸John Wilson, 2014.
Side note: if you can get through this whole review without getting Stan Rogers’ Northwest Passage stuck in your head, you’re a better person than I am. I spent two days reading this book and fully ¾ of that time I spent trying to remember the words to the world’s most mournful song after The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which coincidentally is also about shipwrecks.
Anyway, I have been avoiding the I Am Canada series because I was convinced they were boring, but this one was not! And to be honest the only reason I picked it is because it’s actually already out of date. The two ships involved, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror have been located in the Arctic (the Terror just this year!), exactly where Inuit hunters had been telling the idiot white people to go and look for them. (This is true, by the way.) So while the expedition was lost in the sense that everyone died, the remains of their ships and many of the crew members have been located. So now I suppose it’s the “doomed” Franklin Expedition? Is that better?
Also I have to note here as well that I feel like Terror is a horrible name for a ship bound to be on an expedition to a terrifying land where there’s every chance that everyone will die. I wouldn’t get on it.
One of the interesting things about the Royal Diaries series is that they’re doing a really difficult task—taking small parts of (mostly) very famous stories, and adapting them for a young audience, but deleting all the sex-and-death that tends to populate adult fiction. They’re more daily life and growing up (and therefore more relatable for a young audience) and less violent killing and adultery.
Mary, Queen of Scots: Queen Without a Country, France, 1553, Kathryn Lasky, 2002.
This is an interesting one because Mary Queen of Scots story is generally immensely overshadowed by her far more famous cousin, Elizabeth I of England. But this is the prelude to a story that’s really fascinating in its own way (after all, Mary was eventually imprisoned for eighteen years and then executed by Elizabeth, after a fun-filled life that included being the Queen of France and then a marriage to a noble that ended in his murder and a major explosion at their house! Whew) and features all kinds of famous names that usually pop up in much more lascivious books: Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de Medici, Nostradamus! Geez.