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Children's Fiction Colonial & Revolutionary Periods

The Hollow Tree

by (author) Janet Lunn

Tundra Book Group
Initial publish date
Aug 2001
Colonial & Revolutionary Periods, General, Girls & Women
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2001
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 10 to 18
  • Grade: 5 to 12


From one of Canada's best loved children's writers comes the enthralling tale of a brave young girl caught up in the American Revolutionary War. It is 1777 and Phoebe Olcott is thrown headlong into the horrors of war when her beloved cousin Gideon is hanged for being a British spy. When she finds a message left by Gideon containing the names of Loyalist families to be protected by the King's army, Phoebe knows she must deliver the message to the general at Fort Ticonderoga. She sets out into the wilderness and soon meets up with Jem, a young Loyalist travelling to the safety of British Canada. As they travel across the country facing rebel guns, wild animals and worse, Phoebe and Jem discover they have a growing attraction for each other. But her own mission cannot be ignored and Phoebe once again finds herself alone, freezing and near death before she is reunited with Jem on the shores of Lake Ontario.

About the author

Janet Lunn, une auteure très populaire au Canada a remporté le prix du Gouverneur général, catégorie Littérature jeunesse à plusieurs reprises.


JANET LUNN’s children’s books always make award and bestseller lists. She hase been awarded the Writers’ Trust Matt Cohen Award in Celebration of a Writing Life and the Order of Ontario, and she is also a member of the Order of Canada. Lunn’s history of Canada, The Story of Canada, is a must-have reference book for teachers and parents across the country

ALAN DANIEL is a fine artist who has also illustrated a number of children’s picture books for over 20 years. His interior illustrations for children’s books include Aaron’s Hair, Good Families Don’t, as well as non-fiction books such as The Story of Canada and Canadian Pioneers.

Janet Lunn's profile page


  • Winner, Governor General's Literary Award - Children (English)

Excerpt: The Hollow Tree (by (author) Janet Lunn)

By the River

Throughout all her long life, Phoebe Olcott never forgot a single moment of the last happy afternoon she spent at home by the Connecticut River. It was on a day in May, in the year 1775, and she spent it in her favourite spot on the river bank on the Vermont side.

Phoebe lived with her father in the little wilderness settlement of Hanover, on the New Hampshire side of the wide river. Five years earlier, their ox carts piled high with their belongings, the Olcotts had made the long trek north from their settled town in Connecticut when Eleazer Wheelock had moved both his Presbyterian college and the Indian school north to Hanover. Jonathan Olcott had come to teach at the college.

Teachers and students alike had set to, with a will, to fell the enormous white pines and build their habitations, but, in 1775, the college was still only a collection of rough buildings surrounding the stump-filled clearing called The Green. To Phoebe it was the centre of the world and she loved it. She loved the big unpainted dormitories and classrooms and the big college barn at the corner of The Green. She loved Dr. Wheelock’s house, which everyone called The Mansion House. She loved the ringing sound of iron on iron that emerged from the fiery depths of Israel Curtis’s blacksmith shop as he fashioned horseshoes and door hinges and fire boxes, and she loved Master Seaver’s carpentry shop with its scent of fresh pine wood shavings. She even loved Captain Storr’s tavern, although she never went there and the laughter and the shouts that erupted from within it sometimes frightened her. She liked the young men better when they came bursting through her own cabin door, drunk on ideas and not on rum.

They came, fired up to argue Greek philosophy and Christian doctrine with Phoebe’s father. Sometimes they came with pigeons, partridges, rabbits, or deer slung over their shoulders, ready to butcher for Phoebe to roast over her fire. Phoebe’s quiet ways were popular with them. They called her pet names like Mouse, the name her cousin Gideon had for her, or Little Bird, the name the Mohawk Peter Sauk called her.

Phoebe would squeeze herself between the log wall and the edge of the big stone fireplace in the front room and listen to the talk with longing. She would have liked to join in, but she was too shy. However, she was not too shy to think about the talk and to wish that women could become students at the college and teach there. One day, she supposed, she would marry one of her father’s students. He would become a teacher like her father, and life would go on as it had for as long as she could remember.

Her mother and her infant brother had died of measles when she was four. She could remember nothing at all about her brother. She remembered her mother’s smile and her soft, low singing, but there was little time in that backwoods life to long or to grieve.

She had had to begin at age four to care for her father and herself. Now, at thirteen, as well as the book learning she had from her father, she could cook wild animals and plants from the forest, as well as the potatoes, pumpkins, and onions she grew in her tiny garden patch. She could spin the tough-fibred flax and soft wool, then weave them together into the linsey-woolsey cloth out of which she made shirts and breeches for her father and simple gowns for herself. Sometimes she even managed to dye the cloth with red from the wild puccoon or brown from the sumac. As well she had learned to make sure her father had his books under his arm, his comforter around his neck, his hat on his head, and his bit of meat and bread in his coat pocket every morning before he set out across The Green to meet his students.

Phoebe often thought of life in the little settlement surrounded by the endless forest as like being inside her cabin with a storm raging outside. The settlement seemed like a haven against all that wildness.

But on this bright afternoon in May, she was not thinking about any of that. She had turned her back on her housework, and she was refusing to think about the war her father and his students always talked about of late. Thoughts of how her impulsive father might rush off to fight in a war made her feel sick in her stomach. No, she could not think about that. She tucked her shawl into her waistband and, bunching her skirts tightly in her hands, she hurried down the steep Hanover hill to the little cove where Master Starling kept his canoe. In exchange for doing his mending, Master Starling, the old bachelor who worked for the blacksmith, let Phoebe use his canoe. She was too frugal to pay the tuppence for the rope ferry and, besides, she loved to pit the strength of her arms against the river’s strong current. Skilfully she paddled across the big dark river to the western shore, to where a brook tumbled into the river beside a small beaver meadow about the size of the Olcotts’ tiny cabin, protected from the encroaching forest by five giant willow trees.

The sun was high in a deep blue sky, but the air was chilly. A stiff breeze from the east had made the journey easier for Phoebe but hard going for a flock of geese working their way north. As she neared the shore, a pair of otters dived into the water, alarming a blue jay perched on a low branch of one of the willows. It took off with an indignant screech.

Editorial Reviews

"Janet Lunn is one of Canada's best writers of [historical fiction for young readers].... This is a gripping adventure story that is steeped in Canadian history." —The London Free Press
"Readers of The Root Cellar and Shadow in Hawthorne Bay will rejoice. This is a contemporary book, yet is also old-fashioned in the very best sense of the term." —The Calgary Herald
"An exciting story, well told, but perhaps its greatest strength is its beautifully realized central character. Phoebe Olcott's journey on foot mirrors an equally momentous personal and spiritual journey, one that maps the develop-ment of a wise, moral child into a brave and entirely admirable young woman." —The Globe and Mail
"Very engaging ... suspenseful ... emotionally compelling.... Janet Lunn again proves herself the best young adult romance writer we've got. If you needed your hankies for Shadow in Hawthorne Bay, get them out again for The Hollow Tree." —Quill & Quire
"Janet Lunn formulates an enthralling tale rich in historical accuracy dealing with emotional bonds and the horrors of the American Revolution." —Kitchener-Waterloo Record, The Year's Best Books for Kids

"From the opening sentence, we are borne into [The Hollow Tree's] world with such assurance that we know at once we are in good hands." —The Ottawa Citizen
"An enthralling novel for young readers.... It is filled with danger and adventure, with a plucky heroine at its centre." —The Halifax Daily News

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