This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 15.5.
Violet is starting a new school, but is worried that she won’t have friends because she is, well, violet. When she discovers a myriad of other-coloured students in her new class, she is only somewhat reassured: “There were red kids, yellow kids, and blue kids…” But they all have red, yellow, and blue parents.
Mixed-ethnicity is explained to the reader through the vibrant skin colours of the characters, engagingly drawn by Jovanovic to reflect a world both interesting and yet subtly disturbing, much like Violet’s experience of school. Violet’s Dad is blue; her Mom is red; Violet is purple. The analogy is simple and effective. The only problem with the story is that it ends too soon. Once Violet realizes where her own unique colour comes from—blue+red=purple—the reader would benefit from her perhaps meeting another child in similar circumstances: Hazel’s parents could be green and brown; Amber’s could be red and yellow… But the story ends abruptly with Violet’s realization of her uniqueness, which does not, I think, send a message of belonging as strongly as this very promising and imaginatively conceived story could.
“Lyn Cook” is the short name for Evelyn Margaret Cook Waddell, who was a presenter for CBC Radio in the 1940s and 1950s. Her weekly half-hour radio programme, “A Doorway to Fairyland,” had child actors voicing the parts of characters in the books she presented. The Bells on Finland Street is her first novel, and was followed by a number of novels for young readers. Because her written work includes publications before 1950, she is on the list of authors to be included in the Canada’s Early Women Writers (CEWW) database, part of the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC), being established at the University of Alberta.
The Bells on Finland Street
The Bells on Finland Street is a delightful novel set in the early days of Sudbury, Ontario: after the mines had been firmly established, but long before modern technology set in. In its simple story of a young girl striving to do well, it incorporates issues of class, economics, and personal strength. If only peripherally, it exposes the young reader to the Finnish notion of sisu; a true Finn faces life sisukasti: with gumption, with true grit. It is this ability to push forward and prevail—not to moan about the inherent inequities in life—that Grandfather teaches young Elin Laukka. Elin works hard to save money for figure skating lessons, but ultimately makes the decision to donate her money to the family coffers in a time of dire need. Her grandfather, visiting from Finland, redeems her financially and provides her with both figure skates and the coveted lessons, but this is presented as fortuitous, not as a result of her altruistic contribution to the family funds. Elin both learns the values of hard work and the rewards of fortune; in addition, she and her friends have strongly reinforced by the adults around them the necessity of cooperation and tolerance in what is by necessity a multicultural community: “Here in Northern Ontario, perhaps more than in any other part of Canada, the races of the world are gathered together from all the far-away and exciting ends of the earth. How may of your mothers and fathers come from other lands? [...] Had it not been for these good people who travelled courageously across the seas, Canada would perhaps have no gold mines, no coal mines… yes, and no nickel mines, because there would have been no one strong and brave enough to work in the darkness beneath the earth. [...] every one of you, no matter from what far-away country your people have come, is a citizen of Canada, with a fair right to take part in all our Dominion has to offer” (86-7). This is the ultimate message of The Bells on Finland Street, and for all its succinct deliverance in the comments of the adults in the community, the message is nonetheless poignant and effective. Written in 1950, The Bells on Finland Street will still resonate with the young reader of today, but Canada is still a multicultural society, and tolerance and understanding will never go out of style or be extraneous to our Canadian existence.