Children’s Book Reviews
Children's Book Reviews: Piper
Publish July 17, 2018
Jacqueline Halsey’s latest work of historical fiction tells the story of the perilous voyage of the Hector, the ship that brought the first Scottish immigrants to Nova Scotia in 1773. Piper centres around twelve-year-old Dougal Cameron, whose father has booked his family’s passage to North America in hopes of escaping a life of poverty in the Highlands. When Dougal’s Da is suddenly killed, the Camerons must face their difficult journey without him. Angry about his father’s death and resentful at having to help care for his three younger sisters, Dougal finds solace in his friendship with Johnny, a bagpiper aboard the Hector. Jonny agrees to teach Dougal how to play the forbidden instrument, and as the Hector’s passengers face deadly illness, catastrophic storms, and near-starvation, Dougal discovers the power of music to uplift and inspire.
While the trials endured during Hector’s crossing are known to most Atlantic Canadians of Scottish ancestry, Halsey’s novel brings them to life for readers who may not be familiar with this event. Piper’s plot does not hold many big surprises — after all, history tells us that the Hector did eventually reach Pictou eleven weeks after setting sail — but the story of Dougal and his family is compelling. The character of Dougal himself seems almost too earnest and naive for someone who has already experienced such hardship; however, that optimism plays a major role in encouraging readers to feel invested in the Cameron family’s journey. At a time in which immigration, particularly by boat, is a topic of debate in many countries, Piper invites comparison between the historical experiences of Highland Scots in Nova Scotia and the current experiences of other groups around the world. In spite of an unfortunate cover that is unlikely to appeal to younger audiences, Piper is recommended for readers in upper elementary and intermediate school.
Roseanne Gauthier is the Youth Services Librarian for the Prince Edward Island (PEI) Public Library Service, and is PEI's 2017 award-winning 'Champion of Reading'. She has worked in the Faculties of Education at both the University of Prince Edward Island and Mount Saint Vincent University and spent two amazing years as the Children’s Librarian at the Confederation Centre Public Library. She holds an MLIS from Dalhousie University, and an MA from the University of Waterloo. Roseanne lives in Charlottetown, PEI with her husband, their adorable daughter, and two tuxedo cats.
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