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Lynda Durrant (1954-) - Sidelights

review life mary family

"Even when I was a young reader, I knew that I wanted to write for young readers," Lynda Durrant once told SATA. "I write to a child's enthusiasm, curiosity, and more than anything else, a child's willingness to suspend his disbelief. A children's book could seem outlandish, even repulsive, in any other medium. Children give the writer the benefit of the doubt. That's what makes children's books so special."

Durrant's historical young adult novels focus on pioneer days and on the lives, legends, and hardships of the many U.S. settlers and the Native Americans who encountered them. In Echohawk, Durrant's first novel, Jonathan is kidnapped and his family slain by Mohicans, who fully adopt him and teach him their language and their ways. Having become more a Mohican than a white settler, Jonathan, or Echohawk as he is known, strives to reconcile the two worlds that harbor significant parts of his life.

In Turtle Clan Journey, the stand-alone sequel to Echohawk, young Jonathan/Echohawk is on the cusp of adulthood as he, his adopted father, and his brother are forced to flee to the Ohio Territory. The last of their clan, the trio must keep ahead of the government-sponsored hunters seeking to reclaim any white captives from Native-American bands. Inevitably, Echohawk is ambushed by soldiers and sent to live with his Aunt Ruth in a white settlement in Albany, New York, but he quickly learns that the trivial comforts of the white man's village are no substitute for the freedom and independence found as a member of the Mohican clan. During Echohawk's scenes in the settlement, "Durrant does what she does best, sympathetically balancing the differences between Mohican and colonial attitudes," thought a Kirkus Reviews critic. Roger Helmer, writing in Book Report, thought that the book's plot, detailed characterization, and "wonderful attention to historic detail take this tale to a level beyond the traditional captivity story." The young teenager "remains a sympathetic protagonist," wrote Michael Cart in Booklist, noting that "readers who enjoyed Durrant's first novel will want to read the sequel."

The Beaded Moccasins: The Story of Mary Campbell is a "strong fictionalization" of the real-life kidnapping of twelve-year-old Mary Campbell by Delaware Indians in 1759 Pennsylvania, wrote Hazel Rochman in Booklist. Intended to replace the deceased granddaughter of the Delaware chief, Mary is snatched from her family farm in Connecticut and taken on a grueling trip across Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio into Delaware territory. Mary, along with neighbor Mary Stewart and her toddler son, are forced to walk for miles to the Dakota reservation. Along the way, the fussy child is killed and scalped because he slows the party's progress, and Mary Stewart is traded to a French merchant near Lake Erie. Mary Campbell is fully adopted into the Dakota family, and she struggles to adjust to the difficult life and physical hardships shared by the Dakota. Although she yearns for the comforts of her previous life and early on looks for ways to escape, she eventually learns and accepts the Dakota lifestyle. "In fact, she loves her new family as much as she ever loved her old one," observed Claire Rosser in Kliatt. "She was treated at all times as a member of the family, but of course that meant sharing the hard work and hardships" faced by everyone in the tribe, Rosser added. Elizabeth Bush, writing in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, remarked that "Durrant's exceptionally graceful prose and nonjudgmental description of the cultural chasm between the colonists' and Delawares' worlds set this novel apart" from other novels addressing similar subjects. "The abundant details of the daily habits of the tribe will be beneficial for students," commented Joyce Sparrow in Voice of Youth Advocates, adding that "The story of an adolescent forced to adapt to a different culture is fascinating." Durrant's audience "will be moved by the psychological truth of [Mary's] adjustment and her yearning to prove herself and belong," concluded Hazel Rochman in Booklist.

Another brave frontier girl is the central character in Betsy Zane, the Rose of Fort Henry, a book that reviewer Catherine T. Quattlebaum, writing in School Library Journal, called "a compelling work of period fiction strongly rooted in fact." Twelve-year-old Betsy Zane lives with her Great Aunt Elizabeth in Revolutionary War-era Philadelphia, a town that Betsy finds barely tolerable. Her brothers had sent her there to avoid the dangers of war in their home state of Virginia, but when her aunt dies, Betsy is left alone and has little choice but to rejoin her family. She arranges her aunt's funeral, takes care of necessary business affairs, and heads off to join her brothers near Fort Henry. Her brothers are initially angry at her sudden appearance in a war zone, but Betsy soon proves herself and single-handedly delivers a critical shipment of gunpowder to the soldiers at Fort Henry, sustaining the fort during the siege that became the final battle of the Revolutionary War. Afterward, Betsy encounters cultural prejudices against women, reconsiders her own ideas about slavery, and learns more about herself, her family, and her country. Durrant "has delved deeply into the complex, shifting relations between European settlers and native populations, and she depicts a wide range of attitudes among the Zane family," observed John Peters in Booklist. "Exhaustively researched, Durrant's story successfully brings the remarkable Zane family members to life," Quattlebaum remarked.

The Sun, the Rain, and the Apple Seed: A Novel of Johnny Appleseed's Life is Durrant's fictionalized biography of John Chapman, the famed historical figure whose sometimes bizarre behavior and single-minded determination gave life to the legend of Johnny Appleseed. Chapman's early childhood experiences of planting apple seeds with his father and watching the apple trees grow and bear fruit led to his adult mission in life, when he decided in 1799 that he would travel the frontiers in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, planting apple seeds and ensuring a supply of fruit for later settlers. Chapman's goals were admirable, but sometimes his behavior was odd. He occasionally wore a stew pot for a hat; he talked to angels and spirits; he claimed to be married to a pair of stars he called his In her fictionalized biography of John Chapman, Durrant sketches the life of the eccentric, good-hearted man who planted apple seeds across America in the nineteenth century in an attempt to provide food for the hungry. (Cover illustration by Stefano Vitale.) spirit-wives; and even his casual conversation with other people was filled with Biblical quotations and verses. However, Chapman was also known to be brave and concerned for others, reportedly once running nonstop for three days and nights to warn some settlers of an impending native attack. Eventually, his sincerity and charm won over many people worried about his odd behaviors. In an afterword, Durrant expands on the historical details of Chapman's life. Gillian Engberg, writing in Booklist, remarked that "Durrant creates a vivid portrayal of a historical legend with a powerful vision," and Kristen Oravec noted in School Library Journal that Durrant's Chapman "is well delineated."


Biographical and Critical Sources


PERIODICALS


Booklist, September 1, 1996, p. 118; March 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of The Beaded Moccasins: The Story of Mary Campbell, pp. 1233-1234; May 1, 1999, Michael Cart, review of Turtle Clan Journey, p. 1585; September 15, 2000, John Peters, review of Betsy Zane, the Rose of Fort Henry, p. 240; May 15, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of The Sun, the Rain, and the Appleseed: A Novel of Johnny Appleseed's Life, p. 1665.

Book Report, November, 1999, Roger Helmer, review of Turtle Clan Journey, p. 60.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1996, p. 56; May, 1998, Elizabeth Bush, review of The Beaded Moccasins, p. 319; April, 1999, Elizabeth Bush, review of Turtle Clan Journey, p. 277.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1999, review of Turtle Clan Journey, p. 532; March 15, 2003, review of The Sun, the Rain, and the Appleseed, p. 465.

Kliatt, July, 1998, Claire Rosser, review of The Beaded Moccasins, p. 6.

Publishers Weekly, September 9, 1996, p. 84; February 24, 2003, review of The Sun, the Rain, and the Appleseed, p. 73.

School Library Journal, September, 1996, p. 201; June, 1998, Gerry Larson, review of The Beaded Moccasins, p. 145; June, 1999, Renee Steinberg, review of Turtle Clan Journey, p. 129; April, 2001, Catherine T. Quattlebaum, review of Betsy Zane, the Rose of Fort Henry, p. 140; May, 2003, Kristen Oravec, review of The Sun, the Rain, and the Appleseed, p. 150.

Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1998, Joyce Sparrow, review of The Beaded Moccasins, p. 353.*

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