Jacqueline Pearce spent 10 years catching up with the history of the 1948 Fraser River flood that swamped much of the Fraser Valley from Chilliwack to Mission. This week, with the river surging to its highest level in 30 years, history is catching up with her.
Pearce just released Flood Warning, a children’s chapter book about a young boy’s adventures on his family’s farm in the Fraser Valley and his heroic effort to save their Guernsey cows when the river rose to its second highest level in recorded history. Then, the river poured through damaged dikes to cover more than 200 square kilometres, displacing 16,000 people and damaging $20 million worth (1948 dollars) of property.
Tuesday, looking out over the river, swollen by spring runoff and heavy rain and now lapping at the uppermost rocks along Burnaby’s Fraser Foreshore Park, Pearce couldn’t help but marvel at the irony of the timing for her ninth book, and the serendipity of history.
“It looks so peaceful,” she says. “I can definitely imagine the power of the water.”
That’s because in gathering material for Flood Warning, she had immersed herself in the place and time of the great flood of ‘48.
She scrounged through archives and old news clippings. She went to Agassiz to talk to locals who went through the flood. She toured their farms and visited the town’s graveyard.
She even learned about the popular radio hero of the time and confirmed The Lone Ranger had reached young listeners in the Valley.
That particular attention to detail is a point of pride for Pearce, who’s also written fictional stories about artist Emily Carr’s childhood and the internment of Japanese-Canadians on Vancouver Island during WWII.
And while only a minute portion of her research might make it into her books, it all helps her create a context that transports her young readers back in time and right into her characters’ adventures.
“You often don’t hear about the children’s stories in historical events, you just hear about the adults,” says Pearce, a Burnaby resident for the past 15 years. “Kids empathize and imagine themselves in all kinds of different situations. They’re excited to share their own similar experiences.”
Though the current concern about the Fraser is unlikely to equal the devastation of 1948, Pearce says there are still valuable lessons for kids to learn from her book as they visit the rising river with their parents, or maybe watch news reports on television.
“They can see how people work together to overcome adversity,” says Pearce. “Kids can feel they’re not alone, that they can help in big situations even in a little way.”
To learn more about Jacqueline Pearce’s children’s books and where to find them, go to www.jacquelinepearce.ca