The Hungry Year

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Study Guide Available Here

Series: Historical Years in Upper Canada (Ontario)
Publisher: Toronto: Stoddart Kids Publishing, 2001. Markham: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2005.
Cover Art:  David Craig
Summary: A twelve-year old immigrant girl and her four-year-old twin brothers face storms and starvation in 1787/1788 – documented by Historians as Canada’s Hungry Year.

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A regional winner of the 2002 Silver Birch Award

Shortlisted for the 2002 IODE Violet Downey Awards

Canadian Children Book Centre’s Our Choice list 2002

Novel Award by The Word Guild 2002


The Hungry Year Whets One’s Appetite

“. . . completely believable, wonderfully entertaining “family” history. . . captivates junior readers curious about what life would be like in a by-gone era, vastly different from their own life experiences. . . . This book succeeds on several levels: as a human interest story of true courage; as a story acknowledging untold native support for settlers; as a story of the inner strength and determination shown by pioneer women.”
— Grietje McBride, B.Sc., U.E. and Bob McBride, B.Sc., M.Ed., M.M., U.E., retired teacher/teacher-librarian. The Loyalist Gazette, Toronto, Canada,

“. . . suspenseful and character-driven . . .”
—Peterborough This Week

CM Magazine Review
This novel is solid historical fiction based on events in Canadian Loyalists’ lives as they struggle through the winter of 1787, close to starvation. It is a pleasure to include the story of 12-year-old Kate, her younger four year old twin brothers and her grieving father in the cache of Canadian books that support the social studies curriculum.
—Joan Marshall—Teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, MB

Also reviewed in

Heritage Matters

The Napanee Beaver

The County Weekly News



Chapter One

Kate woke up with a gasp. Was somebody breaking into their wagon? She shifted slightly in her bed, trying not to make a sound. There it was again: a clawing noise just behind her head, on the other side of the canvas curtain that separated the driver’s seat from the rest of the wagon. Kate sat bolt upright in fear, then immediately wished she hadn’t. Now whoever or whatever was making the noise would know there was someone in the wagon.

Kate sat very still, trying not to breathe too hard, though the noise from the driver’s seat had stopped. All she could hear now were the waves lapping against the shore of Lake Ontario and scampering sounds coming from the forest on the other side of the wagon. Kate stole a glance at her brothers, sleeping in the trundle bed next to hers. Their blankets were pulled right up to their noses to protect them from the cold October air.

Kate stared at the dim light filtering through the canvas opening at the back of the wagon. Father and the Shaws must still be up talking. Kate couldn’t help feeling resentful. There was Father having a good time with his friends and here she was left to protect the boys. It had been that way ever since last winter when her grandma died.

Kate soon makes a friend, Sarah, though she has to leave her behind when Father takes them to their new home – a lonely lot in the middle of a woods. Sarah does come to visit and the girls meet a bear.

Without looking, Kate threw the second petticoat. This one also caught and dangled on the very end of the branch. Then, with a pounding heart, she reached for the higher limb and swung her body up onto it. From her position on the branch, Kate looked down and saw a dark figure beneath the tree.

It was the bear.

Kate wrapped her arms and legs around the branch and clung to it, shaking. The only clothes she had on now were her shift, her short gown, and two dangling pockets fastened to her waist.

Was she shaking with fear or cold? She couldn’t be sure. But she did know that in minutes she and Sarah could both be mangled to bits of flesh.

Kate made herself face the bear. It was huge. In her fear, she thought it looked almost as large as the bull they had had in Albany. And it stank. It was a stifling, musty smell that nearly made Kate cough.

Fortunately, the bear had not noticed. It was busy nuzzling the petticoat Sarah had dropped on the ground. Would it be angry when it discovered the petticoat wasn’t food? Next it poked its nose up towards the branch where Sarah lay. Kate gasped as she stared at the giant face and the cold, beady eyes looking up at her friend.

The bear must have heard her gasp, for it swung its nose towards her. (p. 61, 62)

Later, winter comes. It is now 1788. After poor crops, with little food to spare, the winter is terribly harsh. Kate’s father is forced to go farther and farther from their makeshift cabin to hunt for food. Then one day, he simply doesn’t return. Can twelve-year-old Kate fend off danger and protect her brothers? Can these three children survive the hungry year when hundreds of others will die?

Again, Kate awoke from a troubled sleep to a freezing cold cabin. She wanted to get up to tend the fire but couldn’t move. She stared straight up to the rafters. The frosted nails of the roof turned into a multitude of glistening eyes staring fiercely down upon her. She could hear the wind roaring in the darkness and the heavy ice-laden branches slashing against the cabin, now in motion again.

A thunderous crash of something hitting the roof jolted her back to reality. The impact came crunching down almost upon them, and she felt a blast of cold snow all around her and her brothers. The loud banging continued and came into the cabin. She threw herself over the boys to protect them. Was the whole cabin caving in? Were they being buried alive in snow and splintered logs?

They had been cold before, but now with the snow and wind blowing right over them and around them, she knew they would freeze. She reached out her hand from under the quilts and touched her brothers’; chilly faces. Even the three of them together couldn’t keep the bed warm.

She lay still now and prayed silently while the storm continued to crash around them. The snow still fell steadily over them as the wind grew calmer. The bed even started to feel a little warm. Kate slipped back into a deadly sleep. . . . (p. 134,35)

Did help come in time?



The Hungry Year


Connie Brummel Crook

The characters in this book are fictional but the main facts are true. Many sad tales emerged from that time of the hungry year in our Ontario history. I have combined these stories into one family’s adventures. For many Loyalists, it was the fourth year in a new country and the first year that they were not given rations by the British government. After poor crops in the summer of 1787, the winter of ‘88 was terribly harsh.

Twelve-year-old Kate, the central character, faced danger and provided for her brothers when their father did not return. Could these children survive when hundreds of others would die? Desperate, Kate stuggled on. Help finally came from the most unlikely sources – but was it in time?

Have you read Maple Moon by Connie Brummel Crook and illustrated by Scott Cameron? That story was originally a part of this book. It was told by Kate to her brothers to pass the time as they hoped that spring would come and solve their problems. It is something like this novel. Perhaps, you would like to read it again.

Although The Hungry Year characters are fictional, I used the names, personalities, physical descriptions, and many speeches of four of my five grandchildren (the fifth one wasn’t born yet). I sent their pictures to the artist, David Craig, who did the cover illustration. Since Kate was not twelve yet, he had to make her look older. The twins are now ten but I sent him their pictures when they were the same age as the children in the story. At that time, they were completing four years as Daniel, the youngest in the King family on Road to Avonlea. So perhaps, you have seen them before. When they saw this book cover, they immediately spotted the fact that they had coats with the wrong colours. Alex with thinner face wears blue, and Ryan with face a little more square wears red.

Even though I write about children from many years ago and I try to find out as much about them as possible through research, I often have contemporary children and people in mind for my models. Like an artist, I need to see them in order to make them real for others. Also, it’s easier to remember the colour of their hair, eyes, etc. In my novels, Flight and Meyers’ Creek, I have described family members, since those are stories about my own ancestors. With Laura’s Choice and the Nellie McClung trilogy, I depended upon my research and my talks with their family members.

It is always easier to write about characters I already know as I did in The Hungry Year.