by Jacqueline Halsey
Nimbus Publishing, 2018
ISBN 978-1-77108-605-9 (sc)
ISBN 978-1-77108-606-6 (HTML)
$12.95, 172 pp, ages 8 – 12
A few years back, author Jacqueline Halsey spent two weeks in Pictou, Nova Scotia, where the ship Hector arrived in 1773 with the vanguard of what would become a flood of migrants from Scotland. Piper is a fictionalized account of that actual event, and Halsey has created a fascinating backstory which explains real occurrences (such as Culloden and the Highland clearances) while focusing on the tribulations of one family as it sails toward Canada. The main protagonist is Dougal Cameron, a twelve-year-old who cares for his younger siblings while his mother nurses other passengers afflicted with a variety of ailments. Descriptions of life aboard the aging brigantine are bleak—food becomes scarce, the passengers below deck survive amongst a swirl of effluent, and burials at sea become increasingly common. As Dougal’s friend, “Jonny Piper,” falls ill, the young Highlander haltingly learns to play the forbidden bagpipes. Eventually, he employs them to welcome the passengers ashore in the New World. Thus Dougal (like others who have continued to play the instrument at home and abroad) represents those real-life immigrants who maintained important cultural ties that still knit the Scottish diaspora together.
Classroom Connections: While this work is aimed at junior-intermediate level readers, its range is actually broader than that. And that is a good thing because the author has written a fine book of historical fiction (for example, she trolled the real ship’s manifest for authentic passenger names to use throughout the novel). Halsey has provided a brief appendix to explain the dire situation in Scotland in the 1700s and the book also includes a glossary of naval terms and Gaelic words used in the story. While younger students might simply enjoy depictions of family life that ring true in any age, older readers could explore historical connections found in Piper, or chart the development of characters over time (for instance, Dougal eventually takes on a difficult parental role as the voyage drags on). Certainly, opportunities to compare the lives of these economic refugees to those in “caravans” still seeking a better life in North America today are abundant.
Review by George Sheppard.
This review is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Winter 2019 issue.