The gift of literacy

Clarence’s Big Secret by Roy MacGregor and Christine MacGregor Cation, illustrated by Mathilde Cinq-Mars (Owlkids, 2020)

Based on the life of Clarence Brazier, born August 28, 1906, in a log farmhouse near Magnetawan, Ontario, this compassionate, informative children’s picture book relates how “for nearly one hundred years, Clarence had a big secret.”

The third of seven children, Clarence and his family worked hard to survive. Big for his age, Clarence readily helped with farm chores by the time he was six-years-old. On his first day at school, Clarence was humiliated when he was asked to spell his name and was unable to because he hadn’t been taught the alphabet. When the other students laughed at him, he ran home.

Soon after, Clarence’s father was blinded in an accident and Clarence, despite his young age, promised he would take care of the farm. He never resumed his education and never learned to read and write. For decades he kept his secret – illiteracy – and felt deep shame.

Clarence married Angela and shared his secret with her. Though Clarence worked hard, he moved from job to job each time his illiteracy might be exposed. Finally, he and Angela bought a farm and didn’t have to worry about fooling employers. As years passed, even Clarence’s children and, later, grandchildren, were unaware that he was unable to read.

When Angela passed away, Clarence worried. Angela had taken care of all the tasks that required literacy. Clarence finally confided in his daughter, Doris, and she taught him how to read and write. A fast learner, Clarence wanted to pass on the joy of literacy to young children. He visited schools and shared his story.

On April 15, 2012, Clarence died at the age of 105, a testimony to the fact that it’s never too late to learn and an example of the transformative power of literacy.

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