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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Listening Tree, written by Celia Barker Lottridge. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2011. $11.95 ages 9 and up

"It was a green world. She
was surrounded by a maze
of branches and a canopy of
leaves. She could glimpse the
sky and the red brick of the
house across the street but only
in bits that changed as the leaves
moved gently."

The Depression has made for many changes in Ellen's life. The family farm is failing; so her father has set off to find work in the west, with a promise to send much needed money home. Now, Ellen and her mother are uprooted from that same Saskatchewan farm to travel east to Toronto; they will stay with her mother's sister and help her with the work of her boarding house. Bad times are affecting everyone.

Their work with Aunt Gladys assures food on the table and a place to sleep. Saskatchewan House is filled with people trying to make it in a much-changed and very harsh world. We don't really get to know them well, as they are only home to eat and sleep. For Ellen, the displacement of her family is concerning but she and her mother are making the best of a bad situation. They help where help is needed; and when her mother gets a job to help supplement their income, Ellen can be counted on to help Aunt Gladys.  While her mother works, Ellen has time on her hands. 

As she sits reading in her room, she hears voices outside her window and wonders what they are saying. There is a huge elm tree outside her bedroom window; its green and leafy branches provide a secret place for listening and dreaming. As she sits there she hears the children who live next door and comes to know a little bit about each of them. She enjoys the quiet, the solitude and the anonymity of her 'listening tree'. Then, one day, she hears something that spurs her to action. She must warn the children that a plan is in place to evict them for late rent payments.

Despite her shyness, Ellen reaches out to the children and tells them what she heard. Together, they make a plan that will foil the evil-doer and give hope to the children and their mother. It takes time and commitment to formulate a plan but cooperation and concern assures a hopeful ending for all.

The characters are well-drawn, the tale well- told and the action moves the story along despite the many hardships faced. Young readers will get an authentic feel for the times and the setting. We know that Ellen has found good friends in Charlene, Joey and Gracie. They will work together to solve just one of the many problems facing those who lived at the time of the Great Depression. With good luck, and good cheer, the future may not be so dire.

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