There is a lot of talk about light at this time of year – candlelight, tree lights, street and store decorations. There is another kind of light that is important all year – the light that helps a person through some difficulty, the light of friendship and understanding.
The book I’m sharing today talks about that kind of light, and how sometimes just being a friend can light someone’s life in ways you never dreamed of.
Author: Kit Pearson
Publisher: Toronto: Harper Trophy, 2016
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction
Audience Age: 9 to 12
Themes/Topics: friendship, grief, learning to cope, Emily Carr
Opening Sentences: Emily is dreaming about birds. They are darting and soaring, their wings multicoloured against a sapphire sky. Emily is among them, zooming into the endless air.
Synopsis: The Emily of the book will grow up to be one of Canada’s most famous artists, Emily Carr, but at the time of the book, she is only nine years old. This book is fiction inspired by her life, but it is not literally a scene from her life. Kit Pearson, the author, a master of imagination, wondered “what if” from the facts that were available, and came up with this story of one day in Emily’s life, and the life of the older girl she befriended, Kathleen O’Reilly.
Emily and her sister, Alice, are staying with family friends because their mother is very ill. Emily is worried about her mother, lonely, grumpy because she doesn’t like the people they are staying with, and they don’t like her much, either, because she’s grumpy and messy and not at all what they think a nice little girl should be like.
Emily loves nature, being out in it, reveling in it. She loves being free. She feels restricted by all the rules of 1880s Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. One morning, she gets up very early, puts the minimum of clothing on, and sneaks downstairs to go outside. While she is exploring, she comes across a girl (Kathleen) who, it turns out, is very sad because her sister is dead and she misses her so much she can hardly do anything.
Emily and Kathleen end up spending the day together at Kathleen’s house. Kathleen, wanting to find something that will entertain her unexpected guest, shows her how to watercolor. Emily has never used watercolors, but she is taking art lessons. She doesn’t follow the rules Kathleen sets out, however – her paints get muddy and her painting is nothing like a “proper” one would be, and yet there’s a vitality to it that Kathleen has never seen before.
While talking about her grief, Kathleen tells about her odd sense that her sister is still somehow nearby. Emily lets slip that her sister went to see a psychic in town, and Kathleen becomes determined to go to see her, to try to contact the sister and find out what she wants. While they are there, Emily learns something that threatens their new friendship.
It will take more than Emily’s efforts alone to make amends, but light will shine. You just need to read the book to find out how!
For Further Enrichment: You can learn more about Emily Carr’s life through reading her autobiographical books, The Book of Small, Klee Wyck, Growing Pains, and others.
Monica Kulling has written a picture book about Emily and her beloved pet monkey, titled When Emily Carr Met Woo – it’s a delightful snippet about the artist’s later life.
There’s a short animated video that tells a bit about Emily Carr’s early career at TVO Kids.
A Day of Signs and Wonders is available in the United States as well as in Canada.