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Fiction Historical


A Winter in the Woods

by (author) Felicity Reid

illustrated by Jirina Marton

Hidden Brook Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2015
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2015
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 9 to 12
  • Grade: 4 to 7
  • Reading age: 10 to 18


48 words
This is a young reader spell-binding pioneer life story of survival. Girls and boys of any age will be captivated by vivid descriptions of the Canadian northern landscape and the historically accurate story of endurance. This story will quickly engage the reader in thirteen year-old John Turner’s adventures.

50 words
This spell-binding tale about pioneer life and survival follows the adventures of John Turner (13) left alone in the bush with the family's cattle and his dog. He faces devastating isolation, loneliness and other dangers. Adopted Joséphine journals about the family and her own adventures while waiting to rejoin John. 71 words: Alone: a Winter in the Woods is written in the spirit and quality of Fredrick Philip Grove’s, Governor General Award winning novel, “Settlers of the Marsh”. Felicity Sidnell Reid brings the young reader a spell-binding pioneer life story of survival. Girls and boys of any age will be captivated by vivid descriptions of the northern landscape and the historically accurate story of endurance.

192 words
A story for all ages, Alone: a Winter in the Woods quickly engages the reader in thirteen year-old John Turner’s adventures. Forced to grow up quickly, while left alone on the family’s land grant in a virtually unsettled township, in the winter of 1797, John has to overcome devastating isolation and loneliness. With only a couple of oxen, a pregnant cow, a handful of chickens and his dog to keep him company, everyday tasks become ten times more difficult than they were while Pa was still with him, building their tiny cabin. Meanwhile John’s mother has adopted the orphaned Joséphine, who keeps a journal recording the life of the Turners and her own experiences, while the family waits for Pa to return to Adolphustown to escort his wife and young children up the lake to the new settlement once spring allows water traffic to start up again. This tale explores the differences between family life and expectations in the eighteenth century and the present, as John and Joséphine reflect on what home, family, and friendship mean to them and struggle to find the courage, determination and faith needed to face the future.

About the authors

Felicity Reid's profile page

Jirina Marton has exhibited her paintings throughout Europe, Canada, and Japan. She has illustrated many children's books, including Little Books of Northern Tales: The Bear Says North by Bob Barton, Arctic Adventures: Tales from the Lives of Inuit Artists by Raquel Riveria, Marja's Skis by Jean E. Pendziwol, which was a Governor-General's Award finalist for illustration, and Bella's Tree by Janet Russell, which won the 2009 Governor General's Award for illustration. Jirina lives in Colborne, Ontario.

Jirina Marton's profile page

Excerpt: Alone: A Winter in the Woods (by (author) Felicity Reid; illustrated by Jirina Marton)

January 1797: On the Trail
As the wind flew through the trees, the forest roared like the ocean breaking on a stony beach. The fierce noise drummed against his ears, but John didn’t mind. It reminded him of the little town beside the sea, where he’d been born almost thirteen years ago. Now, he and his father were far, far away from the Atlantic Ocean, deep in the forests of Upper Canada.
The high wind forced the trees this way and that, their great boughs crashing against each other. It was just luck, he thought, that they had not been hit by a falling branch. He squinted up through the flying snow. A tree cracked and exploded right over his head. Would the sled, piled high with their belongings, give them some protection if a heavy limb fell on them?
Unmoved by the buffeting noise, the oxen plodded on. But they were being coaxed by John’s father. John couldn’t hear him for the wind, but he knew that Pa would be crooning in the ears of his beasts.
“Come up, Mattie. Another step here, Bruce…and another and another. Come along. Good boys both! Keep going now, keep going….”
The snow whirled up from the ground. John screwed his eyes shut. The flakes, sharp as needles, stung those parts of his face that weren’t protected by the long scarf he’d wound around his neck. He’d wrapped it about his head as well and pulled his hat down over his nose.
 As he stumbled along in the tracks of the sled, he tried to keep moving steadily so that he didn’t tug too hard on the halter of the cow he was leading. Milly had had a difficult journey. Winter always left cattle—those that weren’t killed for meat, that is—looking thin and gaunt by spring.
There was little to eat on this long, cold journey and she was carrying her unborn calf. Milly was John’s chief responsibility for the moment. He hated the way her bones stuck out so far from her body and tried to find her something special to eat each day. Starvation could kill; and if an animal became too weak, it would be slaughtered to feed the humans and keep them strong enough to complete their journey. He slipped his arm under her chin and drew her head close. Her neck against his cheek was warm and he breathed in the muted smell of her hide, mixed with a whiff of manure and even a memory of hay.
Her calf was due in the spring and John knew the forest would be a joyful green then. They would have built a shelter for the animals and a cabin for the family. Mother, the little ones and Joséphine would come, sailing up the lake in a bateau. And his lonely vigil in the wilderness would be over—or surely nearly over? Oh, if only that day were not so far away. Suppose he couldn’t handle the task Pa assigned him? Milly might have died by then or he could be dead himself. He slipped, slithered and nearly fell. Perhaps, right at this moment, it was sensible to concentrate on putting his best foot forward and keeping up with Pa. That wasn’t much to ask—the journey might be difficult, but right now, he had Pa to guide him.
The track was narrow and bumpy, even though many of the ruts and pot holes were frozen over with snow and ice. John wasn’t surprised when his father halted the oxen and shouted to him, “Son, come help me shift this timber.”
He sighed as he looped Milly’s lead rope around the nearest tree. “Stay now, Milly!” he ordered. How many more times would they have to clear another barrier from the track? He was tired and night was falling. Perhaps they’d never reach their destination—the journey might never end. The wind hurled more snow in his face. He grasped the side of the sled and pulled himself around it.
When he saw the size of the tree that had fallen across the road John gasped. “But Pa, we’ll never move that monster,” he shrieked. “And if we try to cut it—that part there, could easily fall and crush us. Ain’t that so?”
The barrier was as tall as any house, for the great maple had caught some of its branches in a smaller tree so that they just brushed the snowy track and other great limbs appeared to be acting as legs to the rest. But even as John spoke, the tree rocked in a gust of wind and a great piece split from the trunk before it settled again with a loud thump on the snowy ground. Pa grabbed John by his collar and pulled him away from the crown of heavy branches. Sections snapped and flew about in all directions, while globs of snow rained down, as though the tree was shooting cannonballs at them.
“Yes, indeed we could be crushed if we don’t take care. Mind now, stay away from that end of the brute.” Pa gave John a little shake before letting him go.
“But how will we get past it? We can never move it.”
“I know that well enough, lad. Just shush up and do as I say. We’ll chop a new path round the roots. I have the axe, you pull away the brush. It’s small stuff—we can make an opening wide enough for the sled here.”
John pushed his frozen fingers into his armpits. His gloves were wet and stiff with ice. Even pressed against his body he couldn’t warm his hands. He watched Pa cut away the low brush that had grown up under the tree. Pa never gave up, he thought, even though he must feel just as cold and discouraged as John did.
Pa stopped, his eyes narrowing as he looked up at John. “Come on, lad. We can do it, you know. If we work together, we can move mountains if we must!”
John smiled, shook his head and sprang into action. Working with Pa was what he liked doing best. He forgot how stiff and tired he felt and hauled away the undergrowth as quickly as Pa cut it. They were skilled woodsmen and enjoyed working together. When Pa started singing—for as he often said, he believed that singing gave workers more energy—John joined in. Pa chose one of John’s favourite songs—a sea shanty which fitted well with the high wind and bursts of snow that blew into their faces. The thud of Pa’s axe gave a strong beat to their song.


Come all you young sailormen, listen to me                        
I’ll sing you a song of the fish in the sea
And it’s...


Windy weather boys, stormy weather, boys                        
When the wind blows we’re all together, boys                        
Blow ye winds westerly, blow ye winds, blow
Jolly sou’wester, boys, steady she goes.


Up jumps the eel with his slippery tail,
Climbs up aloft and reefs the topsail;
And it’s windy weather boys, stormy weather


Windy weather boys, stormy weather, boys                        
When the wind blows we’re all together, boys                        
Blow ye winds westerly, blow ye winds, blow
Jolly sou’wester, boys, steady she goes.


There were many fine verses to follow and John knew them all. They sang the ones about the shark “with his nine rows of teeth”, who says, “You eat the dough boys, and I’ll eat the beef!”; the one about the herring, “king of the sea” and reached the final verse with the whale saying, “If you want any wind, well I’ll blow you a squall!” But at that moment John turned again to haul away a big bundle of brush.
A ghostly, snow covered figure loomed high over his head; the shock hit him hard like a blow to his stomach. A tall horse stood heaving its breath in and out, creating great clouds of fog. It curled about the rider, concealing his features. The almost-forgotten terror John had felt five years before when the family were on the run, escaping to Upper Canada from the newly independent American states, thrust itself up his throat like vomit and choked him. Who could this be?




The Overnight Camp
“Pa!” John croaked, and then stood still, staring up at the mounted man.
“What’s amiss, boy?” Pa shouted when he realized John had stopped working.
John felt the blood draining from his face; he was frozen to the spot. Pa lowered his axe and stepped up beside him. He knew Pa could see the fright on his face and was aware of his panic. He wished his fear didn’t show so clearly. All the same, he had reason he thought; hampered by the slow-moving oxen, cow and the heavy sled, what could Pa do if the man was dangerous?

Editorial Reviews

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Current Reviews:




Felicity Sidnell Reid delivers a compelling, at times harrowing, adventure story that will be enjoyed by readers of any age. There is so much information here that the book belongs in every Ontario classroom studying the lives of the Loyalist settlers. The book is filled with such vivid descriptions of the forest of Upper Canada, the rivers and marshes, the glimpses of Lake Ontario in the distance, and the changing seasons that the reader easily imagines sharing these surroundings. The author's use of actual place names adds authenticity to this historically accurate story. Highly Recommended.


Reviewed by Peggy Dymond Leavey,


author of Laura Secord, Mary Pickford,


and nine novels for young readers.






In the winter of 1797, John Turner and his father Elias, Loyalists originally from New York, arrive at their 200-acre grant of land in Newcastle District in Upper Canada. They've travelled on foot through deep snow and over frozen bays and inlets to make the seventy-mile trek from Adolphustown.  With them on the journey are two oxen, hauling a sled laden with supplies; Milly, the cow; and in a coop buried deep in the bottom of the sled, a rooster and three hens. These will be the start of the farm the Turners plan to create, after they first clear some of the land and build a log cabin and a shelter for the animals.


     When the time comes for his father to return to Adolphustown to fetch the rest of the family, thirteen-year-old John will be left on his own to fend for himself in their little clearing in the wilderness. The adventure that follows illustrates the strength of the human spirit.


     Will John be up to the challenge? Does he have the courage and tenacity to survive alone for three months? It's a fearful proposition, but John recalls his grandfather's saying that if you've never been afraid, then you cannot be brave.


     Because the Turners' is the first land grant in the new township, there will be no neighbours for John to call on for assistance. He does meet one other traveller, a Methodist preacher named William Black, whose circuit is Quinte's Isle. The kindly circuit rider gives John a New Testament, a quill and a bottle of ink, and some paper that John folds into a small book. Here he will record the important events in his solitary life and keep a tally of the days until he is no longer alone. Best of all, Brother Black brings John a year-old pup he calls Bonnie. She is company for John, and they keep each other warm at night under the bear skin covering on the bed. 


     From the time his father leaves at the end of February, John is responsible for keeping himself and the animals alive. “Depend on the Lord and rely on your good sense,” Pa tells the boy. 


     Buoyed by his father's faith in him, John still has to face the fact that now, except for Pa and Brother Black, no one knows where he is, or even that he still exists.


     The book is filled with such vivid descriptions of the forest of Upper Canada, the rivers and marshes, the glimpses of Lake Ontario in the distance, and the changing seasons that the reader easily imagines sharing John's surroundings.


     Besides the daily routine of caring for the animals, collecting water for cooking and drinking, keeping the fire going that burns in a pit in the middle of the cabin's earth floor, and gathering moss to fill the cracks between the logs, John must use all his ingenuity to come up with solutions to the challenges he faces at every turn, and he has to make careful decisions.


     When Bonnie has a painful encounter with a porcupine John must extract the barbed quills from its face or risk losing his only companion. He helps birth Milly's calf and then keeps a vigil all night to protect the newborn from the hungry wolves that appear at the edge of the clearing.


     Felicity Sidnell Reid details many of the tasks John undertakes, making birch bark tiles for the cabin roof, preparing simple meals for himself from a few dried beans and ships biscuits, deciding how to tap the maple trees when the sap begins to run and fashion a bucket to collect it. There is so much information here that the book belongs in every Ontario classroom studying the lives of the Loyalist settlers. The author's use of actual place names adds authenticity to the story.


     Between some of the chapters in John Turner's narrative are diary excerpts written by Josephine Fontaine, a French-speaking girl from Montreal who lives with the Turner family in Adolphustown  These entries give the reader insight into what is happening back home, while the family awaits the father's return and then as they prepare for the journey to the new homestead.


     When spring finally comes to John's tiny clearing in the woods, and the ice leaves the creek, Bonnie unexpectedly runs away. Distraught, John ignores his father's warning not to go after her if this happens and thus neglect his responsibilities at the homestead.


     Eventually, he finds the dog stranded on the opposite side of the flooded river, and in his attempt to rescue her, comes close to drowning himself.  While he struggles against the strong current he is struck by a large tree branch and dragged out into the deep water. 


     With Alone, Canadian author Felicity Sidnell Reid delivers a compelling, at times harrowing, adventure story that will be enjoyed by readers of any age. Highly recommended.




Reviewed by Peggy Dymond Leavey,


author of Laura Secord, Mary Pickford,


and nine novels for young readers.








Sidnell Reid recreates, with meticulous detail and authenticity, the atmosphere and the daunting challenge that existed for the first pioneers, struggling to carve out a life in the remote, vibrant and spectacular Canadian outback that existed back in 1797. This delightfully descriptive book tells the ‘pioneer story’ through the eyes of two young people, a thirteen year old teenager, John, and a young lady from Montreal, Josephine Fontaine, who is trying to make a fresh start in Upper Canada.  


     This book will draw you in and bond you to the characters, their animals and their surroundings.  It is a wonderful expression of the life that existed for the early settlers and native peoples of the time.  From pioneer log cabin construction to maple syrup making, livestock care, dogs, wolves, chickens, cows, calves, porcupines, geese, carpetbaggers and hustlers– this story is a gem for understanding the early history of the pioneers and the important role the Native Peoples played in helping them survive.


Mary Norton


CEO and librarian Cramahe Public Libraries






Reading about John Turner, the young hero of Alone, is the perfect antidote to Holden Caulfield, the cynical protagonist of Catcher in the Rye. In this engaging novel, set in 19th century Ontario, a thirteen-year old goes through the rites of passage, guarding the homestead. Alone in the bush, while his father fetches the rest of the family, John fends off a pack of wolves, a thievish peddler, and a dangerous fever. He makes friends with an Ojibway boy, learns to spear-fish salmon, and delivers a calf. John has what it takes to survive in the bush – spunk, skill and determination. He shows the quintessential pioneer spirit of courage, perseverance, and industry. While John takes care of the homestead newly carved out of the bush, the rest of the Turner family makes preparations to leave the relative comfort of a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario and join him at their allotment. We see them through the eyes of Josephine, an orphan who has been taken in by the family. In her diary Josephine tells of their labours and of her own difficulties warding off the unwanted attentions of a young lout.  Alone introduces us to a panoply of characters – homesteaders, Loyalist refugees, a young woman from Quebec, a family of Ojibwas, a Methodist circuit rider. They made up the cultural patchwork of Canada then and foreshadow the multiculturalism of Canada today. Alone is a coming-of-age story crowded with life and youthful derring-do.  It is a ripping tale of adventure as well as a compelling lesson in history. 




Erika Rummel


Author of Head Games and two other novels,


a prize winning novella and many academic titles.






“Driving along 401 today, it’s almost impossible to imagine what the countryside near Brighton, Ontario looked like in 1797 when Empire Loyalists began carving their farms and villages from the intractable wilderness. In her story, Alone: A Winter in the Woods, Felicity Sidnell Reid succeeds admirably in taking us back to that time. John Turner, a young teen, travels with his father and their livestock in the dead of winter to their government grant on the shores of Lake Ontario. They set about clearing trees and erecting a rudimentary log shelter. Then his father leaves, tasking him with guarding their land and protecting their livestock until he returns with the rest of the family. John is left alone there and faces months of loneliness and danger relieved only by the visit of a friendly Chippewa family. The story is salted by excerpts from the diary of a young French woman, a possible love interest, who stays with the family back east in Adolphustown. Many writers fail to mention the matter of faith in their historical stories. In this novel, the visit of the circuit rider, reading the Bible and saying one’s prayers all illustrate the role played by faith in the lives of our pioneers. With its fascinating details of the perils John faces alone and the innovations he must invent to survive, Sidnell Reid’s story reminds me of Robinson Crusoe.” 


Eric E. Wright,


author of thrillers The Captives of Minara and Riptide,


as well as many non-fiction titles.








"I loved the book. It had lots of excitement and thrills, also very descriptive language. My favorite character is John because he is most like me."


Aidan Comes, 10 years old








"Excellent...well written, with vivid storytelling. A charming, authentic and brave book that recreates an important time in our history…" 


Cynthia Reyes


Author of A Good Home (BPS Books, 2014)


and a regular contributor to Arabella








"Felicity Sidnell Reid uses vivid description of southern Ontario in the late 1700s in Alone: A Winter in the Woods. Thirteen year old John shows resiliency, responsibility, and self-reliance during his ten weeks of solitude. Reid’s story transports the reader to a time in early Canada where nothing came easily—a sharp contrast to today’s convenience. John’s story could offer students and teachers an entry point to discussions about local history, character education, and our relationship with nature. I highly recommend Alone: A Winter in the Woods. A valuable asset to any school library or classroom!




Jessica Outram


Author and publisher of:


From the Cottage Porch and The Writing Spiral.


Teacher of writing,


School Principal for the Kawartha Pine Ridge School Board

Other titles by Jirina Marton