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Tumbleweed Skies

Tumbleweed Skies

by Valerie Sherrard

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The moment Ellie and her father pull up in front of her Grandmother Acklebee’s farm in Weybolt, Saskatchewan, Ellie knows the place doesn’t want her. And it’s the last place she wants to be! But Ellie has no choice. Her father was laid off from the mill in Moose Jaw, and he’s been taken on by the Marvelous Cookware Company as a salesman, a job


The moment Ellie and her father pull up in front of her Grandmother Acklebee’s farm in Weybolt, Saskatchewan, Ellie knows the place doesn’t want her. And it’s the last place she wants to be! But Ellie has no choice. Her father was laid off from the mill in Moose Jaw, and he’s been taken on by the Marvelous Cookware Company as a salesman, a job that will take him clear across the province and back. The road is no place for a nine-year-old, but leaving Ellie with her grandmother is definitely a last resort, and Ellie is devastated. Ellie doesn’t know her grandmother, who angrily blames her son-in-law and granddaughter for her daughter’s death. And although her Uncle Roger is a kind man, Ellie is quickly cowed by the old woman, who shows her no kindness. Determined to survive the situation with her dignity intact, Ellie isn’t about to show her grandmother that she can be hurt. But with only an injured magpie to befriend and care for, Ellie is desperately lonely. Uncle Roger arranges for Ellie to visit Marcy Knowles, a girl Ellie’s age. Marcy wants to play by her rules, and she never misses the opportunity to lord it over Ellie with her superior home, clothes, toys, and pet. Nevertheless, Marcy is interested in seeing Ellie’s magpie, so a return visit is arranged. Quickly bored by a house with no toys or other distractions, Marcy finds ways to get into mischief and blame Ellie for it. But to Ellie’s surprise, her grandmother appears to know exactly what the other girl is up to. And although they never talk about it, Ellie begins to feel that perhaps she and her grandmother might be on the same wavelength after all. But her grandmother won’t soften easily, and Ellie finds that the more time she spends with the old woman, the more she wishes for her grandmother’s love and affection. And the more she learns about her mother’s early life and her Uncle Roger, the more Ellie begins to feel a kinship with them at last. And although her grandmother can’t show affection, Ellie is prepared to make one last gesture. Maybe on the day she is finally to leave the farm, Ellie will find a way to melt her grandmother’s heart, just a little. Set on the Canadian prairies of the mid-fifties, Tumbleweed Skies is a moving story of isolation, loneliness, and one family’s journey to heal itself.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Set on the Canadian prairies in the 1950s, Tumbleweed Skies uses character and setting to illustrate the isolation of this family and also the strengths. Forgoing a clean, happy ending, the book concludes with continuing complexity but a feeling of hopefulness that healing will occur. Tumbleweed Skies is accessible to younger readers and yet doesn't shy away from complex issues of life choices, difficult circumstances, and uneasy relationships. It lends itself to good discussions about character development and motivation.
Recommended." ***/4
CM magazine

"Grandma is as mean as the evil stepmother character in a classic fairy tale, but this moving novel is far from fantasy; it is its realism that makes it so powerful. Quiet as a mouse, Ellie does her chores, but there is nothing that she can do right in Grandma's eyes, and she feels sad, lonely, and imprisoned. Many kids will recognize the sorrow and difficulty of living with a hostile, bitter relative."
Booklist starred review

"A solid novel for use in literature circles and for recreational reading, although it may appeal to a limited audience due to its 1950s, rural setting. Sherrard's writing style is engaging and easy to read. Her ability to paint the emotional distress of a motherless young girl as she attempts to cope with her new surroundings and unenthusiastic care giver is heart-wrenching."
Rating: G - Good
Resource Links

"What a beautiful bittersweet book. I love that this story is all Canadian - written by a Canadian author and based on a Canadian Prairie. . . What I immediately felt as I read this book is that absolutely everyone in this story is broken and in desperate need of love. . . This book is so poignant. . . The lack of communication and verbally sharing of feelings is palpable. You wanted to scream "share, share what you are feeling". A wonderfully put together book."

This gentle, insightful book does not have a Hollywood ending. Rather, it is realistic and open-ended. Tumbleweed Skies is one of the best orphan child novels since Anne of Green Gables.

Professionally Speaking

"This heartfelt story chronicles a prairie family adjusting to grief and change. As she explores the familial relationships, author Valerie Sherrard also provides fascinating descriptions of life in rural Canada."
Book Page

"Quiet moments abound and effectively convey a remarkable level of feeling, making this a worthy and moving purchase."

School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—"I could tell right away that this wasn't a house that wanted me." Thus, readers are introduced to nine-year-old Ellie. It's the 1950s in Saskatchewan, and Ellie's father is down on his luck and has had to take a job as a traveling salesman. He has no choice but to leave his daughter with his dead wife's mother—an embittered woman made vitriolic by her resentment and anger. She hadn't consented to the marriage and blames her son-in-law for her daughter's death when Ellie was an infant. Unmarried Uncle Roger, who runs the farm, has had his struggles in life too, but unlike his mother, his disappointments have honed kindness in him. Ellie does her best to please Grandmother Acklebee and to hide her feelings when her efforts go unrewarded. However, she does forge a tender relationship with her uncle. Over time, Grandmother Acklebee begins to soften (almost imperceptibly), and Ellie starts to accept that the woman's response to her is out of hurt, not indifference. Sherrard has created a tender and complex story around these very different characters. Ellie shows growth throughout the novel in a way that is believable and appropriate for a child her age. Her grandmother's change is very subtle, which is also appropriate, given the circumstances. Readers are not left with a sugary sweet ending, but with a conclusion that offers some hope. Sherrard writes with compassion and understanding about some tough issues, and her characters show remarkable depth. A realistic, moving story of how a broken family copes with loneliness and anger as they search for healing in their lives.—Corrina Austin, Locke's Public School, St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada
Kirkus Reviews
During an economic downturn in 1954, ten-year-old Ellie's father is forced to leave her for the summer with her maternal grandmother and Uncle Roger, people she's never known. Although Ellie is innately optimistic, it's hard to adjust to living with a cold, distant grandmother who blames both the child and Ellie's father for her daughter's death in childbirth. Insightfully exploring Ellie's sometimes pathetic efforts to both understand and please her grandmother and at the same time sensitively exposing the reasons behind the woman's bitterness, this novel gives each of the main characters believable depth. At one astonishing point, Grandma impatiently reaches around Ellie to teach her how to cut dough: "I realized with a start that her arms were around me. Not really, but sort of . . . .I closed my eyes and pretended, just for a minute, that she was hugging me, like an normal grandmother would do." Quiet moments like that abound and effectively convey a remarkable level of feeling, making this a worthy and moving purchase. (Historical fiction. 9-13)

Product Details

Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Limited
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
350 KB
Age Range:
8 - 11 Years

Meet the Author

Born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Valerie Sherrard’s ambition to become a writer was kindled when she was in grade six and living with her family in Lahr, West Germany, where her father was stationed. Her homeroom teacher praised her efforts and instilled in her a lifelong belief in her ability to write. Valerie has written a number of books for young readers. Out of the Ashes was a Red Maple Award Honour Book and a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award. Kate was a White Pine Award Honour Book and an IODE National Chapter Violet Downey Award Recommended Title. Sam’s Light was nominated for both the Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award and the Snow Willow Award, as well as a Resource Links Best Book.

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