That Fine Summer, by Ella Manuel, is a short children’s book set in Fox Cove, Newfoundland. Never heard of Newfoundland? I am not terribly surprised; The Rock, as her people call her, is not the most popular tourist destination in the world.
Newfoundland was discovered by Norsemen and colonized by them at the turn of the Dark Ages, if my memory serves me correctly. But it was not until after Christopher Columbus discovered America that a more permanent colony was set up. Over time English, Scottish, and Irish settlers came to Newfoundland to make their living on the bountiful cod, as well as the natural wealth of the rugged island itself. By the twentieth century, Newfoundland was its own island nation. I do not know the year, but Canada eventually annexed the island through Confederation.
I believe That Fine Summer is set before Confederation, back when Newfoundland was an independent country. In this short novel, Mahala “Malie” Jacobs marches out to her Grandfather’s house in a right fury. When asked what the matter is, she tells him that her mother has made her wear a new dress and a new set of shoes first thing in the morning.
Mahala is a tomboy who likes to go fishing and sailing, things she can only really do with her Grandfather. Her mother, her grandfather’s only child, wants Mahala to act and dress like a proper lady. The only things the two agree on are that they love each other, they love Grandfather, and they are ardent piano players.
That evening, Mahala’s mother springs another unwelcome surprise on her daughter. She tells Malie that they are going to St. John’s, the capitol city of Newfoundland, for the summer.
Malie is thunderstruck. She does not want to go to the city. She wants to stay in Fox Cove with her grandfather, fishing, exploring the beaches, and just having fun in her own native place. She has had it all planned out for the last few months.
This leads to an explosive family argument, and Malie goes to the person who understands her best to solve the dilemma: Grandfather. Grandfather talks to Mahala’s mother and convinces her to let Malie stay with him throughout the summer… That fine summer.
I’ll not spoil the rest of the book for you, readers. It is a sweet little story, with lots of local color and language. If you do not understand the Newfoundland slang, the BREAKWATER edition has a short glossary of Newfoundland expressions included in it. But between the jigs and the reels, the story should be easy for children to read and understand.
Have fun fishing for this book and learning about The Rock, readers!