Allison's Book Bag

Round-up of NL Juvenile Fiction

Posted on: July 30, 2011

During my annual visit with my family in Newfoundland and Labrador, I scoured the regional fiction for young people available at the local library. I had some clear criteria in mind. The fiction needed foremost to be written by a resident. With dozens of books to choose from, I was not interested in reading ones by authors who had simply visited our island as a tourist or worse had relied only on research. Because my home province has a unique culture, I also gave preference to books that portrayed some aspect of its identity. Despite these many criteria, I could not resist the opportunity to slip in a popular fantasy novel—which is obviously not set in Newfoundland and Labrador. In all, I read four juvenile and four young adults books for a total of eight novels.



Image by REMY SAGLIER - DOUBLERAY via Flickr

Amanda Greenleaf: the Complete Adventures by Ed Kavanagh is compilation of four fantasies into one volume. Having long heard of these stories, it seemed time to read them. Amanda Greenleaf is the guardian of a waterfall. In the first story, we meet Matthew who rides on a huge dragonfly and we meet merpeople Greta and Glinka. After obtaining permission from Queen Cressida, Amanda Greenleaf also becomes a traveler. She visits a blue star, helps out a family, and brings back a gift for her people. In other stories, Amanda Greenleaf is kidnapped by a water witch, returns to the blue star to rescue a friend, and investigates why the water on her star is being poisoned. Averaging about fifty pages, each of the four stories are short and simple enough for primary-aged children. The stories contain good people, pretty descriptions, and a friendship theme, which also makes them suited to younger readers. What I liked most about the Amanda Greenleaf books as a Newfoundlander is the appreciation for the beauty of nature that is apparent in them. As a reader of fantasy, I liked how easily humans intermingled with supernatural characters such as a talking trout, boy magician, and fairies.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?


Published in 2008, The Nine Lives of Travis Keating by Jill MacLean is a fairly new entry in Newfoundland fiction. Told in first person, this is the story of an experiment. The Keatings are from St. John’s but, following the death of his mom, Travis and his dad become sick of suburbia. When Travis’s dad finds a position as a doctor serving several communities on the northern peninsula, Travis agrees to an experiment of living in a tiny coastal town for one year. On Travis’s first day at Ratchet, the obligatory school bully orders the other kids: “Don’t none of you cozy up to the townie.” After that, everyone acts like Travis “just rolled in dog poop”. No wonder that after school he starts frequenting Gulley Cove, a place the other kids avoid because they think it’s haunted. This is where another experiment begins, when Travis discovers what really haunts the cove. What I liked most about The Nine Lives of Travis Keating as a Newfoundlander is how modern coastal community life served as an integral backdrop. As a reader of realistic fiction, I liked the portrayal of complex relationships between Travis and his dad as they both deal with their grief, between Travis and a few of his classmates who forge friendships despite the bully’s threats, and between Travis and some of locals when Travis seeks help with his experiment.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read it.

How would you rate this book?


Life in coastal communities after the collapse of Newfoundland and Labrador’s fishing industry is at the heart of The Saltbox Sweater by Janet McNaughton. The book is Janet McNaughton’s fifth, but only her first for beginning readers. When the fish plant closes in Quinter Cove, nine-year-old Katie watches her friends and relatives move away. When the local store where her mom works also closes down, the family begins to think they will need to leave their hometown too. Other changes occur, such as the decision to merge fourth and fifth grade at the local school due to their not being enough students to keep the grades separate. What I liked best about The Saltbox Sweater as a Newfoundlander is that while told as fiction, the story is based on the real-life 1992 moratorium on the northern cod fishery. This moratorium caused fish plants across our island to close and resulted in about eight thousand people leaving the island, while many others stayed behind and discovered new ways to earn a living. To find out what happened to Katie’s family, read The Saltbox Sweater. At sixty-five pages, it is a quick and informative read. As in The Nine Lives of Travis Keating, I appreciated the complex relationships portrayed between Katie and her mother in the face of unemployment. Moreover, like Travis, Katie turns to her community for support for the dilemmas she faces.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?


Cover of

Cover of The Word for Home

The Word for Home by Joan Clark is another example of historical fiction, but this time the setting is 1926 at the Bishop Spencer School for Girls. Fourteen-year-old Sadie and her little sister Flora are struggling with the challenges of a new school, a new town, and a life without parents. The girls used to live in Canada (Newfoundland and Labrador would not join Canada until 1947), but the death of the girls’ mother prompts their father to retreat to the island’s interior in a quest for gold. The writing style of The Word for Home is more formal and forbidding than my earlier reads, but I loved the opportunity to settle into a long book about orphans. No, the girls are not really orphans, but they might as well have been. They spend the bulk of their time boarding with a hateful landlady who makes them do daily chores, despite their father having paid the rent in full. When not slaving for Mrs. Hatch, they attend a private school where they are teased for being foreigners. Although The Word for Home was written in 2002, it reminds me in style and content of children’s classics such as The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. What I liked best about The Word for Home as a Newfoundlander is discovering a new piece of my province’s history. The Bishop Spencer School for Girls was apparently a landmark of our capital city of St. John’s. Although the school burned to the ground in 1999, plans were underway at the writing of The Word for Home to erect a statue at Rawlings Cross of a girl in a Bishop Spencer Uniform.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read it.

How would you rate this book?

2 Responses to "Round-up of NL Juvenile Fiction"

After reading your roundup of Newfoundland and Labrador juvenile fiction, I read two of the books that you reviewed in it, The Word for Home and The Nine Lives of Travis Keating. I enjoyed reading both of them and, if I were still teaching, would certainly consider reading them to my grade five class. What I liked most about The Word for Home was its story, which climaxes with Sadie’s telling her father, “Home isn’t a place, Dad. It’s you. The word for home is you,” and Flora’s adding, “And it’s Sadie and me.” Other aspects of the book that stood out to me were its depiction of Newfoundland, especially St. John’s and Corner Brook, in 1926-27 and its portrayal of the characters taking part in the story, including the ones that you referred to in your review. I liked The Nine Lives of Travis Keating, a shorter story set in contemporary Newfoundland, for the same reasons that you did. Reading the two books impressed me with the high quality of Newfoundland and Labrador juvenile fiction now available.

According to the entry about her in The Canadian Encyclopedia, the majority of Joan Clark‘s books seem to be historical fiction based in Newfoundland or in the Maritimes. Perhaps another year when I broaden my reading to include writings from other Canadian provinces, I’ll encounter her novels again.

For any readers who check out and enjoy The Nine Lives of Travis Keating, it already has a sequel. I’m eager to read it!

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