by The Honourable Mayann Francis
Illustrated by Tamara Thiébaux Heikalo
The Honourable Mayann Francis, first female African-Nova Scotian to hold the position of Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, was once a young girl who took a memorable train trip with her family and, while seeing important sights, learned what it means to be part of a warm and open-hearted community. This is her story.
In the 1950s, when she was just 9 years old, Mayann accompanied her parents and sister Isabel on a trip to visit family in New York City where her father, George Francis, archpriest of the African Orthodox Church of Whitney Pier (Sydney), Cape Breton would also speak at a Harlem church. This was a big deal for the little girl for, though she lived in a diverse community that exposed her to people from faraway places, she was going to travel by overnight train, stop in Montreal to visit old friends and, almost most importantly, she got to carry a very-grown-up purse she had purchased using her savings.
There is a reason I write “almost most importantly.” Though she appreciates all who notice the beautiful green purse in which she carries a small notebook recording all she experiences on her trip, “dreaming of showing off the purse to my family in New York”, Mayann she loses it on a subway after a trip to the Bronx Zoo. No matter the efforts to locate it or to console Mayann, it “was gone forever, along with the five-dollar bill and my notebook full of memories.” However, the congregation at the church in Harlem help Mayann see that it’s people that make things important, not the items themselves.
Going beyond one’s comfort zone to experience new and wonderful places and people is what Mayann’s Train Ride is all about but it’s also about milestones in one’s life, whether it be carrying one’s first purse or experiencing the Statue of Liberty or seeing your first black doll. The Honourable Mayann Francis shares these moments with young readers and offers a sweet story of humble beginnings for a woman who achieved so much. I don’t know Tamara Thiébaux Heikalo’s artwork but I should have as Mayann’s Train Ride is the ninth book for which she has provided illustrations. Her ink-outlined watercolours provide a charming nostalgic quality to the story, perfect for the 1950s. From the girls’ clothing and the bows in their hair, to their mother’s prim and proper suits, and of course the purses, Tamara Thiébaux Heikalo gets the tone and the colours and the quality of the setting and characters perfect, as are her depictions of important places like Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal.
Mayann’s Train Ride may be a trip down memory lane for The Honourable Mayann Francis but it will read as a new adventure for children who will recognize its importance, right down to the little green purse.