Prairie Fire Review - The Secret of the Stone House

Reviewed by: Donna Gamache

The Secret of the Stone House by Regina writer Judith Silverthorne is another book in the From Many Peoples series, published for young readers during Saskatchewan's Centennial. This book differs from other books in the series, however, since it is actually a sequel to The Secret of Sentinel Rock, winner of the Saskatchewan Children's Literature Award in 1996. It is also different in that the story is a time-travel adventure, with the present-day story holding equal weight with the past story.

The Secret of the Stone House begins with 12-year-old Emily Bradford driving with her mother to the farm where Mrs. Bradford--Kate--grew up. Emily's 96-year-old grandmother, Kate's mother, had died three months earlier, and now they are returning to auction off the contents of the beautiful stone farmhouse where she had lived. Emily misses her grandmoher deeply. She loves the house and farm, and although neighbours are buying the land, she wishes her mother could afford to keep the house. Emily has other concerns, too. Her parents are divorcing, and her father seems too busy to have time for Emily.

Emily, however, has discovered (in the previous book) a way to use a special stone to time-travel back to the time when her grandmother was a baby and lived in a sod house. She is eager to use the magic stone again to visit with her early relatives. There she discovers that four years have passed since her last visit. It is now 1903 and Molly (her grandmother) is four, while Geordie Elliott (her great-uncle) is 12. His parents and older siblings are busy building a stone house and Emily is amazed to discover that it is the same house where she is now visiting. As she watches her ancestors build the magnificent house, she becomes even more eager to keep the house in the family.

Emily's trips to the past are frequent and short, but because the time periods are not parallel, she never knows how much time will have passed while she's in the present. She also is not sure how much her past and present activities affect the other time frame. When she discovers a key in the present, she hopes to use what she learns in the past to locate the lost box it opens. But can she also change the past when she goes back there?

I enjoyed this book and I'm sure young readers will too. Although it's a sequel, it is not necessary to have read the previous one, since the author clearly explains what has happened before. Important aspects of pioneer life are included, such as sod houses, building techniques for stone houses, pioneer weddings, and prairie fires. However, except for the danger and excitement of the prairie fire near the end of the story, I believe most young readers will concentrate on the present-day conflicts. It's an excellent book--it was a nominee for Children's Literature in the 2005 Saskatchewan Book Awards); I just wonder if it entirely fulfills the mandate of the series. 

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