The Other Elizabeth
Dave Jenkinson is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and the author of the “Portraits” section of Emergency Librarian.
While visiting Cook’s Tavern during a grade seven field trip in June to Upper Canada Village, Elizabeth Duncan suddenly finds herself transported back to October 1813. Identified by everyone around her as Elizabeth Frobisher, she discovers that she is now the second oldest child in a family of six children whose parents are United Empire Loyalists and that the family is about to become involved in the events of the War of 1812. The family is augmented by one when an American neighbor from across the St. Lawrence River brings his son, Jamie, to attend school with the Frobisher children. When the possibility of fighting threatens the Frobisher farm, Jamie is ferried back to the United States. As Jamie’s boat crosses the river, he falls into the water and is rescued by Elizabeth. On November 11, just as the Battle of Chrysler’s Farm is about to begin, Elizabeth returns to the present. Through questioning her grandmother, Elizabeth learns that Elizabeth Frobisher was her great-great-great-great-grandmother and that Jamie had been the original Elizabeth’s husband. Elizabeth Duncan had been “borrowed” by the past to save Jamie from drowning because Elizabeth Frobisher, like most people of that period, could not swim.
As a fantasy for nine- to eleven-year-olds, the book is only moderately successful. Elizabeth’s characterization is inconsistent as she vacillates between responding to happenings as Duncan and Frobisher. Since Elizabeth’s purpose for being in the past is to save Jamie, Bradford must fill the time between Elizabeth’s arrival and the rescue and does so by including events that only tangentially advance the plot. For example, Mrs. Frobisher relates her family’s journey to Canada following the American Revolution; Elizabeth goes night fishing with the men. As historical fiction, The Other Elizabeth could have more appeal, though the plot skirts direct involvement in any of the War of 1812’s major events. Terms appropriate to the period are defined in a three-page glossary. Bradford’s inclusion of details of pioneer family life (such as porcupine and black squirrel stew) helps to recreate nineteenth century Upper Canada, as do Drew-Brook’s eleven black-and-white, full-page illustrations.