Prairie Fire Review - Day of the Cyclone

Prairie Fire
Reviewed by: Donna Gamache

Day of the Cyclone is the seventh novel in the entertaining and educational Disaster Strikes series, an historical series intended for ages 8-12. It places young protagonists in the midst of disasters that have occurred in various parts of Canada. Author Penny Draper is a bookseller and storyteller from Victoria, BC. The disaster in Day of the Cyclone is the tornado that struck Regina on June 30, 1912, the deadliest tornado in Canadian history. More than 2500 people were left homeless by the tornado, which is usually classed as an F4. Twenty-eight people died, more than 200 were injured, and about o:/o:500 buildings were destroyed. Draper's main characters are fictional, but many actual people are mentioned, and incidents of the tornado are skilfully worked into the narrative. The main character is Ella Barclay, the only child of a well-to-do banker and his wife. Ella is bored with her life and feels constrained by her mother's high standards of what is appropriate behaviour and dress for a young girl. As the story begins, she celebrates her thirteenth birthday and her best present is a Brownie camera, which she immediately starts to use. When she snaps a photo of a new student at school, Billy Forsythe, her life begins to change in an exciting way. Billy had immigrated to Canada as a 'Barnardo orphan' but, abused and overworked at the farm he was sent to, he has run away and recently wound up in Regina, where he is befriended by another down-on-his-luck immigrant named Jock. At school Billy is at first shunned, then bullied, but before long becomes Ella's friend, until her parents order her to stay away from him and accuse him of being a thief. However, when the tornado hits while the schoolchildren are picnicking at Wascana Lake some rules have to be ignored. Besides specific details of the devastation caused by the tornado, Draper manages to include geographical information about the Saskatchewan prairie and historical facts and people such as Nellie McClung and the Barnardo orphans, and an explanation of Remittance Men. Details of clothing will intrigue young readers, especially the girls' swimming costume -a navy blue, short-sleeved top with a sailor collar, puffy bloomers, and long, black swimming stockings. Themes include an emphasis on loyalty, honesty, hard work, and volunteerism. The way people come together in an emergency is clearly emphasized, as is the eventual conclusion that it is not one's past but one's future that is important. Ella gradually realizes that people are not always what they seem to be, including her own parents. I highly recommend this book for young readers. It seems appropriate that it is published on the o:/o:100th anniversary of the tornado, and notes at the end include additional factual information about the event. Those who enjoy it might want to check out previous books in the series, six of which were written by Penny Draper. All the stories are stand-alone novels, and most of them have been nominated for or won various awards.

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