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Calico Bush by Rachel Field

Calico Bush (1931)

by Rachel Field

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First published in 1931, and chosen as a Newbery Honor Book in 1932 - Rachel Field had already been awarded the Newbery Medal itself in 1930, for Hitty: Her First Hundred Years - this work of historical fiction for young readers opens in June of 1743, and chronicles one year in the life of Marguerite Ledoux, an orphaned young French girl who, finding herself destitute in Marblehead, Massachusetts, becomes a "Bound-out Girl" for the Sargent family. Accompanying the Sargents to the Maine wilderness, where Mr. Sargent plans to occupy a claim he had only recently purchased, Marguerite - now known as "Maggie" - finds her courage put to the test on more than one occasion, as she must rescue the family cow from drowning, confront a bear intent on attacking the Sargent children, and think quickly in order to defuse tension, when a party of potentially hostile Indians appears. She must also contend with her fellow settlers hostility to her, on account of her French background. When her many acts of courage and kindness are unexpectedly rewarded, and she is given the opportunity to rejoin "her kind" in Quebec, she must decide who she really is, and where she belongs...

I found Calico Bush - so named because the "calico bush" flower (also known as mountain laurel), and the ballad named for it, have significance in the story - to be an immensely engaging work of fiction: engrossing, often quite moving, and historically realistic. Life in colonial days was harsh, particularly outside of the larger urban settlements, and Field captures that here, with her tale of a young orphaned girl adrift in a world of strangers. She does not shy away from depicting the losses that Marguerite suffers at the beginning of the story - the death of her Oncle Pierre on the sea voyage from France, and the slow decline of her Grand'mère in Massachusetts, where the two find themselves on the Poor Farm - nor does she spare the Sargents, who lose baby Debby in a horrible accident in which she crawls into the fire late one night. Loss, hard work and privation are all here, and so too is prejudice: the prejudice of the Anglo settlers against Marguerite, because of her French blood - something that reveals itself frequently in the sneering remarks of the eldest Sargent boy, Caleb, but also in the occasional comments of some of the adults - and the prejudice and fear that all of them experience in their interactions with the native peoples of the area.

I expected the latter to be particularly offensive, given the frequent dehumanization of native peoples I have encountered in the pages of vintage American children's literature, but although there were elements that felt a little sensational to me - notably, the evil "torture" cave that Marguerite discovers, at one point - for the most part I thought that Field managed to offer a fairly realistic portrait of how people of that time and place would have felt and spoken about "Injuns," without indulging in gratuitous demonization of native peoples, as a narrator. In fact, I was rather impressed by some of the more thoughtful moments, as when Marguerite meets the Indian warrior in the woods, and they exchange Christmas greetings in French. I thought the follow-up to that scene, in which the Sargents are spared attack the next spring, when the same man appears with the group of warriors that gather outside the house, actually served to humanize native peoples, by demonstrating that they (like any other group of people) would respond more favorably to fair and generous treatment, than to open hostility and attack.

I understand that Calico Bush was inspired by the story of a real historical figure - one Marguerite La Croix, who was, together with her family, one of the first settlers on Maine's Little Cranberry Island - which makes sense to me, as the story felt very authentic. All in all, this was a strong work of historical fiction for younger readers, one I would recommend to readers who enjoy that genre. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Apr 12, 2013 |
This book was a 1932 Newbery Honor Book for best contribution to American children's literature. It is the story of thirteen-year-old Marguerite Ledoux in 1742-1743, a young French emigrant who finds herself all alone in the New World after her uncle and grandmother die. She agrees to be "bound" to a family who are moving to begin a farm on an isolated section of the coast of colonial Maine. It is a beautiful story and finds appeal amongst readers today. ( )
1 vote kettykat | Apr 17, 2008 |
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To my island neighbors and especially Captain Jim Sprague
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1743 and a fine June morning. Blue water, wind from the southwest, and Marguerite Ledoux taking her last sight of Marblehead as she crouched at the low railing of the Isabella B.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0689822855, Paperback)

In 1743, thirteen-year-old Marguerite Ledoux travels to Maine as the indentured servant of a family that regards her as little better than the Indians that threaten them, but her strength, quick thinking and courage surprise them all.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:06 -0400)

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In 1743, thirteen-year-old Marguerite Ledoux travels to Maine as the indentured servant of a family that regards her as little better than the Indians that threaten them, but her strength, quick thinking and courage surprise them all.

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