Dear Canada: Days of Toil and Tears: The Child Labour Diary of Flora Rutherford, Almonte, Ontario, 1887 by Sarah Ellis

Days of Toil and Tears: The Child Labour Diary of Flora Rutherford, Almonte, Ontario, 1887 by Sarah Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

219 pages, Hardcover
Published January 1st 2008 by Scholastic Canada

Dear Canada

This is a decent enough story, entertaining and a quick read. It's a simple tale of the daily life of an orphan girl who goes to live with her aunt and uncle, both workers at a textile mill where she also takes a job to support her addition to the family. I didn't find this book nearly as historically interesting as many of the others in this series as it didn't really live up to the subject suggested in the title: "toil", "tears" and "child labour". The picture on the cover looks like a street urchin or a waif, but our main character is certainly not as such, but rather a robust, healthy (though poor) girl living with family who loves her and sees she's taken care of to the best of their ability. The Victorian era is a particular interest of mine and I've read much Dickens, many contemporary Victorian novels, historical fiction and non-fiction on the subject of child labour in the UK and US and it is entirely more of a hardship than this book dares to detail. Rather than speaking of her toils, Flora, describes daily life and spends much more time regaling us with tobogganing, Dominion Day, Victoria's Golden Jubilee, going to church, fairs, festivals and Christmas. I'm not knocking the book, which was entertaining, but the reader is not going to get much insight into the real life of child labourers, Flora is 11 and there is a little girl much younger than her at work also. I usually love the back matter in these books and the author does give more of a real history of child labour and the laws in Ontario at the time (which existed but were largely ignored). However all the photos of actual child labourers were American, and from Southern US at that. Not exactly representative of small town Ontario, which was disappointing. Not a bad slice-of-life historical fiction of a labouring family from the time period but not exactly a portrait of Victorian era child labour.


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