Steve Pitt is a Toronto-based freelance writer and an award-winning journalist. He has written many young adult and children's books, including Day of the Flying Fox: The True Story of World War II Pilot Charley Fox.
Dippers look like someone crossed a flying fish with a muskrat. In the
early part of this century, they were known to inhabit Toronto’s Don
Valley during the hot summer months. Although dippers were accepted as a
local phenomenon, they were not always welcome. Naughty boys would throw
rocks at them. Adults hung dipper bells on their doors to scare the
little pests away. But most dippers were a fact of life and Torontonians
just had to accept them.
Margaret and Louise live in a boarding house on Mark Street. Their
mother works as a servant for rich people. When Louise becomes very
sick, their mother is given time off with pay to take care of her. Their
mother takes the money but finds another job to help pay the bills.
Louise is left in the care of a strange aunt from Detroit.
This is the framework for Barbara Nichol’s deliciously eccentric
story. Although Barry Moser’s splendid illustrations evoke instant
nostalgia for sweeter, simpler times, Nichol’s prose rudely jerks the
reader back to “reality.” There are many dark corners to
Margaret’s world. (Poverty and vulnerability are constant themes
throughout this tale.) The fantastic dippers themselves are prone to
accidents and suffering. Yet there is a toughness about the characters
that is both painful and wonderful to contemplate. Highly recommended.