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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hyena in Petticoats, a graphic novel by Willow Dawson. Puffin, Penguin. 2011. $15.00 ages

"Nellie credited her rural upbringing on the plains of Manitoba as one of the main reasons for her success. She grew up on a farm in a pioneer village where women worked equally as hard as the men, resources were often scarce, and the entire town would pitch in to help with community projects or a neighbour in need. Nellie understood how difficult life was for most people."

Nellie McClung is a true Canadian hero, and Willow Dawson captures her spirit, her accomplishments and her determined journey in this new graphic novel. She left her mark on Canadian history with her writing (sixteen books), her political stance, and her never-give-up attitude as she sought to make the world a better place for everyone, but especially for women and young children. She did not lack courage, maintained a quick wit despite the struggles to make a difference and leaves a legacy that is quite remarkable:

"It is the writer's place to bring romance to people, to turn the commonplace into the adventurous and the amusing, to bring out the pathos in a situation...Words are our tools and must be kept bright...I refuse to be carried through the sewers of life just for the ride...I write if I have something to say that will amuse, entertain, instruct, inform, comfort or guide the reader."

On the first page we meet the feisty, independent young girl punching a fellow classmate for being better at reading than she is. Turning to the first of nine chapters, we are privy to the move that takes the Mooney family from Ontario to the wilds of the Canadian prairies. A house is built in the Tiger Hills and the family prepares for the long trek from Winnipeg. Nellie's path is determined in this new village when she is discouraged from racing (it's not for girls) and learns what alcohol does to men who imbibe.

An understanding and generous teacher helps her realize the power that comes from learning as much as you can...she turns to books and writing to have a voice and vows to initiate change when she is old enough to vote. Her sister offers a startling revelation:

"Nellie, politics is for men. Women are not allowed to vote . Not here in Canada. Not even in the United States or Europe."

Each new chapter provides a look at the path her life will take. She attends normal school and becomes a teacher, meets and marries a fine man, gives birth to five children and crusades throughout her life for better conditions for women and children, the right of women to vote and various other social reforms. She is indefatigable, and delights in the many victories that have meant a lot to others.

There is so much about Nellie McClung that is inspirational. Thank you to Willow Dawson for creating this marvellous graphic biography so that young people will come to know her life, her accomplishments and the mark she has left on Canadian history:

"I believe in a progressive Canada  with fair laws for women and immigrants! I was a key player in the referendum on Prohibition and on getting women enfranchised. These are terrific successes, but there is still much work to be done. Vote for me and I promise to continue to fight for your rights!"

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