Once on This Island

Once on This Island

by Gloria Whelan


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From the author of the National Book Award-winning novel Homeless Bird comes a gripping historical novel about a young girl during the British-American War of 1812.

When war erupts between England and America, it brings change and uncertainty, even to Michigan's remote Mackinac Island.  For young Mary O'Shea, the hardest change is the departure of her father, who leaves Mackinac to join the American Army. With her sister and brother, Mary must tend the farm, deal with the hardships of British occupation, and hope for the safe return of their father.

With her trademark lyricism, spare prose, and strong young heroine, award-winning author Gloria Whelan has once again taken a chapter from history and transformed it into gripping, accessible historical fiction that is perfect for schools and classrooms, as well as for fans of Ruta Sepetys and Elizabeth Wein.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780064406192
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/09/1996
Series: A Trophy Bk.
Edition description: REPRINT
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 638,784
Product dimensions: 5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.38(d)
Lexile: 830L (what's this?)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Gloria Whelan is the bestselling author of many novels for young readers, including Homeless Bird, winner of the National Book Award; Fruitlands: Louisa May Alcott Made Perfect; Angel on the Square; Burying the Sun; Once on This Island, winner of the Great Lakes Book Award; and Return to the Island. She lives in the woods of northern Michigan.

Read an Excerpt

Once on This Island

Chapter One

We live on an island and the world comes to us over the water. My brother, Jacques, was the first to look out across Lake Michigan and see the canoe carrying the traders. It was on a July afternoon and Jacques, my sister,Angelique, and I were in the field with Papa picking beans. The sun was hot, and our backs ached from bending over. We were happy when Papa said we might leave our work to go down to the bay and see the canoe come in.

It was the year of 1812. There was trouble across the ocean in England and France. A year before, a thousand Indians had tamped along our shores bringing the pelts of mink, bear, lynx, buffalo, and beaver. Now fur trading had stopped and our island was nearly deserted. The canoe pulling into the bay was the first one we had seen in a week. It was only fifteen feet long, not like the huge voyageurs' canoes that stretched to thirty feet and needed a crew of fourteen. This birchbark canoe rode lightly in the water, so I could tell it held only a few animal skins.

Jacques could not wait for the canoe to reach shore but ran recklessly into the lake to meet it. It is how he comes to everything, with his whole heart. He is a tall, gangling boy and looked like a great sea bird thrashing about in the water. Although he is only fifteen, Jacques can talk of nothing but his wish to become a trader. With the help of his Indian friend, Gavin, he has built a canoe from birchbark and learned words in the Ottawa language. He shoots as well as Papa, but Papa says Jacques will do better to be a farmer like himself. "A trader must live on the land of others," Papa says. "A farmer lives on hisown land."

The only time our island hears what is happening in the rest of the world is when some canoe or schooner arrives. On this day we were especially eager for news, for these were troubling times. Napoleon was marching across Europe. The English were boarding American sailing ships, taking American sailors away and forcing them to become members of the British navy. In Washington, President Madison was very angry with the British and was threatening war.

Even Papa left his work to come down to the bay. The blacksmith, Angus MacNeil, was already there and so was the surgeon, Dr. West, and his wife and their two girls, Emma and Elizabeth. We saw the Sinclairs, who have the farm next to ours, and Pere Mercier, the priest from St. Anne's church. There were even a few soldiers from the fort, which sits on a limestone bluff guarding the town.

My sister, Angelique,was the last to arrive. She had stopped to scrub the dirt from her nails and to bind up her curls with the green ribbon she keeps for special occasions. She is sixteen and thinks she is too old to have to work in our fields and soil her hands. I'm only twelve, but even though I'm a girl, I'm going to work our farm until the day I die, and get as dirty as I like.

The whole town gathered around while Jacques helped the trader, Pierre Gauthier, and his Menomonee wife, Marie, pull the canoe ashore. Accompanying the Gauthiers were two rough-looking men we had not seen before.

Pushing aside the townspeople in a most impolite way, the two men hurried toward the soldiers. They insisted on seeing Lieutenant Porter Hanks, who is the commander of the fort. They spoke excitedly, waving their arms and pointingin the direction of St. Joseph Island. After a bit the soldiers led the men away to our own fort, Michilimackinac 1, at the top of the hill.

The rest of us gathered around Monsieur and Madame Gauthier. M. Gauthier is a tall man and as sturdy as one of the great pines that stand on the hills of our island. His black hair fell over his shoulders. In his sunburned face his eyes were as blue as bits of lake water.

Mine. Gauthier was as tall as her husband but slim and stately. She was wearing a calico dress whose bodice was trimmed with beads. Her brown arms were bare and covered with welts from the stings of the black flies. I have heard that the flies come down upon a campground to bite and bite until you run into the water to get rid of them.

"What is the news?" Mr. MacNeil asked. He is always ready for a bit of gossip.

M. Gauthier was full of importance, waiting until everyone quieted so that his words should be attended to by all. "Everywhere we stopped we heard how Indians were making their way to the fort on St. Joseph Island to join the British troops. The Sauk, the Winnebagoes, the Ottawas, the Chippewas, and.. ." He looked at his wife. "Even the Menomonees," he added in a sad voice, for his wife is the daughter of a Menomonee chief. Traders often take Indian wives, for the traders live among the Indians, sometimes with the same tribe, for many months of the year. Their Indian wives can instruct them in the customs of their tribe and teach them the Indian language.

Mme. Gauthier did not look away. "If the Americans treated the Indians, as well as the English, you would have as many friends among them as the English have." Everyone wasquiet, for it was well known that when Americans traded with the Indians, the blankets they gave were thinner than those given by the British. And though it was against the law, whiskey often changed hands.

Papa asked the question that worried all of us. "Do they go prepared for war?"

As though the words were too frightening to say aloud, M. Gauthier nodded solemnly. We all looked toward the fort on the hill, it was our only protection. There, behind its limestone walls and blockhouses, Commander Hanks' officers and men numbered no more than sixty men. They could never hold out against a British army joined by hundreds of Indians.

Angelique hardly listened to M. Gauthier. She was looking up at a young soldier and fluttering her eyelashes in the way she practices in the mirror when she thinks no one can see her. The soldier was boasting to her that the British would never be able to storm our fort.

Papa shook his head at the boast. "No one will have to storm it," he said. "They have only to make their way to the hill that overlooks it." Papa had often warned the town that our soldiers did not command the highest point on the island but no one listened to him. Now he turned to me. "Mary, you had best go back to the farm and milk Belle. I want to go up to the fort."

I called to Angelique but she and Elizabeth West, who is her dearest friend, were giggling together over something the young soldier had said. Jacques was helping the Gauthiers unload their canoe. As I started up the path that leads to our farm I looked out at the two great lakes. Lakes Michigan and Huron flow together around the eight miles of shoreline that ring our island of Michilimackinac. You cannot tell where one lake lets off and the other lake begins. Together their arms are clasped around our island. Often what the lakes bring to our island is good, but not always. There is no knowing.

Once on This Island. Copyright © by Gloria Whelan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Once on This Island 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
countrylife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Once On This Island is a very nicely done YA story about how one family was affected by the war of 1812. There are three children, the oldest a girl of sixteen, a brother, and the youngest sister, Mary, twelve, who is the narrator of this story. Their mother died giving birth to Mary, and now they and their father are working their family farm on Mackinac Island. But there was trouble across the ocean, and it was heading their way. Papa takes up arms to resist the British, expecting to leave his children in charge of the farm for the season. The lilacs of Mackinac Island are now calling to me, and I must visit.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love this book!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can't wait to find out what happens in the next two books! Does she marry Gavin?
SundialMI More than 1 year ago
I came to read Once on This Island by Gloria Whelan at the recommendation of a youngster. This boy was dressed like a fur trader, his favorite character in this novel, in order to promote the book at a local book store event. I told him that if he liked books about islands, he would probably enjoy Island of the Blue Dolphins, a classic children's novel. He replied that he'd already read it, and he liked Once on This Island better. So I bought the book. Once on This Island takes place on Mackinac Island (pronounced MACK uh naw) in Michigan. The action occurs during the War of 1812. The story gives a perspective on that war as it affects people's daily lives as observed and narrated by an adolescent girl. As the story unfolds, it touches on problems of growing up, of accepting responsibility, becoming independent, and of judging people as individuals. And, of course, there's more. From my reading of the book, my instinct was confirmed that children can indeed be good judges of children's literature. Put briefly, I consider the book very good historical fiction.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely LOVED this book. This is a good book for historical- fiction lovers (like me). I enjoyed reading it!!!! I have read the sequel (Farewell to the Island) and am now reading the third and final book in the series, (Return to the Island).
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book. It is about Mary, whose life is torn apart by the War of 1812. It is about how she finds her strength in trying times. It is about family, courage, love, and friendship. It is beautifully written, told charmingly through Mary's eyes. The characters, their stories, their essence, will stay with you always. You just have to read this wonderful book! P.S. You also MUST read the sequels 'Farewell to the Island' and 'Return to the Island'
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was very good! I really got into the story. And the fact that the book is about American History settles it! Because I love American History. It's mt favorite subject, which makes this book even more fascinating.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Even though this book is designed for a young person, as an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Once on This Island. Being from Michigan myself, as well as a family genealogist with some interest in the War of 1812, it touched on many aspects that interested me personally. The story tells of a young girl, Mary, and her family during the time of the War of 1812. It takes us through life on Mackinaw Island, and gives those of us who would love the opportunity to live on the island a glimpse of island life. The story is very easy to read; it appeals, in my opinion, to more than just the young people it was intended for. In it, we learn about the War of 1812 - it's causes, and we see if from both points of view. Once on This Island is an exciting, adventurous book I highly recommend.