By Valerie Sherrard
(Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Hardcover, 9781554551132, 150pp.)
Publication Date: June 1, 2010
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The moment Ellie and her father pull up in front of Grandmother Acklebee's farm in Weyboldt, Saskatchewan, Ellie knows she isn't wanted. But Ellie's father has just taken a job s a traveling salesman, and he has no other choice. The road is no place for a nine-year old. Ellie doesn't know her grandmother, but she learns quickly that the older woman blames her son-in-law and granddaughter for her daughter's death. And although her Uncle Roger is a kind man, Ellie is quickly cowed by the angry old woman, who shows her litle kindness and no affection. Determined to survive the situation with her dignity intact, Ellie isn't about to show her grandmother that she can be hurt.
Valerie has written a number of books for young readers. Out of Ashes was a Red Maple Award Honor Book and a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award. Kate was a White Pine Award Honor Book and an IODE National Chapter Violet Downey Award Recommended Title. Sam's Light was nominated for both the Manitoba Young Reader's Choice Award and the Snow Willow Award, as well as a Resource Links Best Book. A mother of three, former foster parent to approximately 70 teenagers, and the Executive Director of a group home for adolescents for ten years.
This is a moving and subtle novel about a 10-year-old motherless child, Ellie, who lives in an accurately rendered rural Saskatchewan of 1954. In this hardscrabble world Ellie strives to please her embittered grandmother. Grandma disowned her only daughter, Maggie, when she eloped in 1944 with the man who became Ellie’s father. For 10 years after his wife’s death in childbirth, Ellie’s dad was a single parent. Now, laid off from his job in a mill, he starts travelling for a cookware company and needs a place for Ellie to stay while he is on the road. As is typical in a society less child-focused than ours, Ellie minds her manners and does her best to get along. She is diplomatic, unassertive and obedient. From her Uncle Roger, a farmer disfigured in a barn fire, Ellie learns more about her mother. Tumbleweed sky was her mother’s phrase for cloud clusters before rain. The clouds, she said, were like people who have forgotten how to love. With stoicism and resolve, Ellie tackles her grandmother’s housework assignments, rehabilitates an injured magpie, rescues a duplicitous neighbour and gradually melts Grandma’s heart around the edges. This gentle, insightful book does not have a Hollywood ending. Rather, it is realistic and open-ended. Tumbleweed Skies is one of the best orphan child novels since Anne of Green Gables. Professionally Speaking Ruth Latta, OCT, is an author and educator who teaches writing courses in Ottawa.