A Season Most Unfair

Written by J. Anderson Coats
Review by G. J. Berger

Only child Scholastica (Tick) grows up in the town of St. Neots in 13th-century England. She and her father toil long days to make candles from foul-smelling tallow and charms out of beeswax. Papa’s eyes are failing, and Tick has taken over painting the charms and other tasks requiring attention to detail. Every year, Tick and Papa haul their charms and five hundred pounds of candles to Cambridge for the Stourbridge Fair. If all goes well, they’ll earn enough to see them through one more winter.

But not this year. Papa has taken an apprentice, Henry, to work with him and live in the family house. Girls have no place as apprentices to candlemakers. Besides, Tick constantly stinks of the tallow, so her friends and even adults keep their distance. Papa now assigns all candle-making tasks to Henry. Tick’s stepmother, Mama Elly, encourages the new arrangement and shoos Tick out to work the garden. Headstrong Tick won’t let Henry take her place next to Papa or at the fair. With help from her old friends, Tick develops an elaborate plan to make the charms and secretly get to the fair on her own, where a series of obstacles confound her.

Through Tick’s first-person present-tense narration, Coats gives readers an in-depth view of the lives of young girls in that time and place, of coping with losing the affections of fathers but attracting young men, of limited life-paths, of trying to be kind in a world that’s not always kind. Coats tells Tick’s story without injecting forced drama through gratuitous violence or overt sex. This is an informative and thought-provoking work for fourth- to sixth-graders.