Janet Read (1956- ) is a novelist, poet, musician, and visual artist who lives in Port Hope, Ontario. Her publications include a book of poetry, "Blue Mind's Flower," and historical novels for young adults: "Wilberforce Street" (1998) and "Letters From Tom" (2001 Borealis).
Janet Read´s novel for young adults aged 9 to 13, Letters from Tom grips the reader from the first sentence and doesn´t let go until its satisfying conclusion. Molly´s room is in the attic of a rambling old house (which Read modeled after Canada House in Port Hope). Postcards and letters from the time of the Great War mysteriously begin to appear, chronicling the long-distance relationship between two Irish siblings - Tom, who fought with the Australian forces in France, and Susan, a Barnardo "home child" who worked as a servant in the old house. Susan's attic bedroom is now Molly´s, but the past seems to flow along side the present and sometimes leaks through. Molly wakes in the night to see her comforter changed to a rough patchwork quilt; she begins to feel Susan´s emotions and know Susan´s memories. Susan wants something, but what? Molly and her friend Emma use the letters to help them with their school video project on the great War, then figure out a way to help Susan by writing the letter she never did - the one that could save Tom´s life.
Read´s first novel, Wilberforce Street (Nelson, 1998) is frequently used in classrooms to teach black Ontario history. Teachers will find Letters from Tom equally valuable to supplement units on World War I. Students will be inspired as Molly and Emma recreate a front-line trench, complete with a costumed soldier (Emma´s brother) wearing authentic-looking pottees (gauze bandages soaked in mud). Read says these details, and the letters in particular, are what children find most fascinating. The fictional correspondence is loosely based on actual letters exchanged between real-life siblings Tom and Susan Currie between 1914 and 1919. The letters now belong to Port Hope resident Rob de Mill, who is Susan Currie´s great-grandson.
Letters from Tom adds another feather to Read´s creative cap, but novel-writing is not her only talent. She is also a poet, musician, and well-respected visual artist. Read´s popular abstract paintings are shown at the Painted City in Toronto and the Hunter West Gallery in Peterborough, and they recently appeared at the Whitby Stations Galler and The Mill Gallery in Clarington.
- Wendy Lewis, Artsforum Magazine (publication of the Durham Arts Council), Spring 2002, Issue Number 5
Wendy Lewis is the winner of a Vicky Metcalf Award for her first book of stories for children titled "Graveyard Girl." Her first novel is coming out from Red Deer College Press in the fall.
Letters from Tom tells the story of Molly, a thirteen year-old girl who lives in an old house in a small town. She discovers mysterious letters from the past in her attic bedroom and is drawn into the relationship between Susan, the maid in the olden day´s house, and Susan´s brother Tom who is fighting in France during WW1.
Molly and her friend Emma find more letters as they prepare their own video project on the Great War. At first, they think the letters are stuff Molly´s father has packed away in boxes under the attic eaves but they find an unfinished and un-sent letter from Susan that persuades them to intervene in time by writing a letter to Tom. He is desperately ill. Their letter gives him the will to survive. The girls don´t know how the loop in time works but they look up Einstein´s theory of time and hope for the best.