________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 20. . . .January 28th, 2010.


The Ale Sea.

James G. McGorman. Illustrated by Robin Baird Lewis.
Renfrew, ON: General Store Publishing House, 2010.
223 pp., pbk., $19.95.
ISBN 978-1-897508-93-0.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Vikki VanSickle

*** / 4




The doctor was completely distracted. Who in the world would be driving to The Ale Sea in the dark of night in such a car? He had to know. Quickly he ran as fast as his willies would let him around the corner towards the back gate. As he rounded the metal walls and slid to a halt, his heart sank. This gate was closed too, locked up. In front of him, he could still clearly make out the back of the fabulous car. Over the bumper there was packed a large black trunk. It was the only place on a car like this that one could carry luggage. The back door of the Ale Sea was open and a light shone out from it, illuminating the side of the car. There was the diminutive figure of Mrs. Friggit warmly shaking the hand of the driver, who had no gotten out of the car, rain dripping steadily off his huge black cloak onto the ground. Even though she was a step up, this man, whoever he was, towered over Mrs. Friggit. He seemed about as wide as he was tall, his frame taking up the whole doorway and blocking out the light.

The Ale Sea is an old-fashioned charmer. The story begins with two children, Fiona and Alex, begging their grandfather to tell them "The Bedtime Story." Fiona is quite ill, having recently been diagnosed with leukemia. She has been downhearted and weak, but her grandfather's tale is something that has always cheered her up in the past. The story-within-a-story is about another set of children, Matthew and Peggy, who live with their father in an old cottage on the grounds of a pub called The Ale Sea in a small village in England. The children's curiosity is piqued when a number of unusually tall, cloaked visitors arrive at the inn and Mrs. Friggit, the innkeeper, closes down shop for a few days. The story takes place just following the First World War, during which Matthew and Peggy developed a keen interest in espionage. Putting these skills to use, they soon discover that Mrs. Friggit's visitors are from a mysterious island called Thebia. The Thebians, a gentle, magical people, once lived in England and were called the Aillse, or the fairy. They were forced to flee England in order to escape persecution. They return to England and The Ale Sea every 50 years to visit the descendants of the inn-keeper who originally helped them to escape. The visiting Thebians are endangered when a pair of crooks try to kidnap their queen. Luckily, Peggy and Matthew, with some help from their father and his professor friend, are able to come to the rescue. To reward them, the Thebian queen allows the children to drink from an ancient Theban goblet, an action which grants Peggy a much longer life span and ensures that Matthew lives a disease and illness-free life.

     The Ale Sea is a gentle adventure story. At no point does the reader feel that the children are in any real danger from the disorganized and clumsy crooks. The real danger is in the framing story, the illness that threatens Fiona's life. McGorman cleverly evades any difficult conversations or realities by coming up with a magical solution to Fiona's illness. In the end, it is revealed that Fiona is the daughter of Peggy, who is given a magical ruby necklace so that she may call on the Thebians in times of need, and it is implied that Fiona will be able to drink from their magical goblet, like her mother and uncle before her, therefore eliminating all illness from her body. This conclusion also leaves the story open to a sequel.

     Debut author James G. McGorman makes good use of traditional, British storytelling. This is a novel full of tree forts, espionage, plucky children, doting housekeepers, bumbling professors, fairies, magic, and old-fashioned crooks. Even his language hearkens back to another era, "rouge" instead of blush, suspicious Germans are "Jerries," scones and marmalade are served at tea time. The story is quite long and the language, while enjoyable, can be dense at times. Younger readers, aged 7-10, may find it challenging to get through, although the story is likely to capture their imaginations. For these reasons, The Ale Sea is best suited to being read-aloud by a parent or teacher.


Vikki VanSickle has an MA in Children's Literature from the University of British Columbia. Her first novel, Words That Start With B, was published this fall by Scholastic Canada.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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