Although the Margaret books were a trilogy, I only ever owned the first two books, A Place for Margaret and Margaret in the Middle (Margaret on Her Way is the third book). My mom bought the first two books as a set – I think the third book hadn’t come out yet in paperback. I reread A Place for Margaret recently, after finding my worn out copy while visiting my dad (I found the cover for Margaret in the Middle, but not the content), specifically so that I could write a “fresh” book review on this blog.
A Place for Margaret is nominally about Toronto, but mostly about rural Ontario in the 1920s. Margaret Emerson has been diagnosed with TB and is banished from her family’s busy house in Toronto to her Aunt and Uncle’s farm, near Shelburne, Ontario. From a the middle child in a family of nine children, she becomes an only child. Maggy quickly adjusts – there are very few “town mouse” moments – grows close to her Aunt and Uncle, makes new friends, and falls in love with Starr, the farm work-horse. After spending the better part of the year on the farm, she returns to her family in Toronto and has to readjust to city life. At the end of the book, Margaret is faced with a difficult choice: will she return to the farm to be raised by her Aunt and Uncle, or will she stay in the city with her parents and siblings?
Initially, I was disappointed by my re-read. I had such fond memories of A Place for Margaret and I remember reading it over and over again. This time around, I found the chapters too short, the character development too thin, the “exciting moments” not exciting enough, and the story was unfolding too quickly. At least, that’s how I felt for the first few chapters – by chapter 4 or 5, I was more used to the pace (fast) and reminded myself that when I was 8, I was very likely more slow at reading than I am now and that it very likely took more than five minutes for me to zip through a chapter. Also, I was drawn in by Hunter’s descriptions of rural life in the 1920s. Through Maggy’s observations, readers are able to get a flavour for what life must have been like. This is the book that introduced me to the words Clydesdale, sarsaparilla, “corker” and tuberculosis. Hunter also describes driving (the horse and cart) to Shelburne, a barn-raising, a one-room schoolhouse, how to feed an apple to a horse, and how chewing tobacco works (yep, that last one is going to be handy one day). She includes all of the details that would be interesting to Maggy, and therefore all of the details that would be interesting to a child.
There are a lot of “horse meets girl” books out there – my sister had a bunch of them around when we were growing up. This is one of the better ones: a real story with a real girl, who happens to have a horse in her life. Starr has some key moments in the book, but there are other chapters where he is a side-note. If you are trying to convince a horse-obsessed child that there may be other interesting books in the world, this book could be one possible way.
On a side note: Is Bernice Thurman Hunter no longer in style? Because I did a Google search for a cover (okay, “my” cover) of this book and was shocked to find that there are not that many search results out there. It seemed like all I could find was this photographed cover. It’s just not as good as my cover (which is illustrated by David Craig, in what looks like watercolours, which I adore), and as soon as I recover my scanner I will scan it in. Mr. Craig had obviously actually read the book, because Margaret has glasses and black hair, and Uncle Herb and Aunt Margaret are both there looking just as they should.
Reading Ages: 8-12.