Children of the Day

Publisher: Vintage Canada
Children of the Day opens on a June morning in 1953, when Sara Vandal, convinced that her husband has been having a decades-long affair, decides that she is too sick to get out of bed. With ten children in the house (and a possible eleventh on the way), this decision sets off a day of chaos, reflection and near disaster for the Vandal family.

Sara’s husband, Oliver, heads to the town hotel and bar in Union Plains, Manitoba, where he has been the manager for the past twenty years–a position he suspects he’ll no longer have by the end of the day. In an attempt to avoid the unavoidable, Oliver decides instead to pay a visit to Alice Bouchard, his childhood sweetheart across the river.
Throughout the day, both Oliver and Sara reflect on how their lives collided – a car accident that brought them together and tore them from the futures their families expected of them. Sara (from Sandra Birdsell’s previous novel, The Russländer) recalls her life in the big city of Winnipeg in the 1930s – a young Russian Mennonite woman lucky enough to escape the shackles of her overbearing culture. Oliver remembers his wedding day photograph–his the only Métis face in a crowd of Mennonites–and the precise moment when he suddenly grasped the enormity of his decision to “do the right thing.”

The Vandal children, too, must deal with this unusual disruption of their daily routine. Alvina, the oldest, secretly handles the stress of her family, her plan to escape them all, and her discovery of the world’s evil in the only way she knows how. Emilie worries about losing her happy-go-lucky father while facing the town’s heretofore hidden racism head-on. The boys live up to their family name by recklessly taking chances and literally playing with fire. And since her mother won’t come out of her bedroom, Ruby, just a little girl herself, must take charge of the babies with danger lurking in every corner.

By nightfall the extended Vandal family will be thrown together to work out the problems of the past and exorcise the ghosts that haunt them, which have all, in their own way, set this June day’s events in motion.

From the Hardcover edition.


Chapter One

In the morning, sunlight stretched like cellophane across the doorway of Sara and Oliver Vandal’s bedroom. The ticking of a clock beneath a heap of clothes on the bureau became louder as Oliver gathered them up and quickly dressed, his back turned to Sara in the bed. Throughout the night the...
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1. In the opening pages, did you side with Oliver or Sara? Why? Did your perception of either of them change once their ten children were introduced? If so, how?

2. Sara seems to suffer from post-traumatic stress, particularly paranoia – keeping a knife in the door when she first moves in with Oliver,...

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-The Russländer; nominated for the 2001 Giller Prize
-The Two-Headed Calf; nominated for the 1997 Governor General’s Award for Fiction
-The Town That Floated Away (YA Fiction); nominated for the 2000 Red Cedar Award and 2000 Silver Birch Award
-1993 Marion Engel Award (Canada’s prestigious recognition for women writers in mid-career)
-The Chrome Suite; nominated for the 1992 Governor General’s Award for Fiction
-The Missing Child; 1990 W.H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award

“Utterly gripping ... a historical novel that reminds us how the past, and especially the violent past, can never be repressed … Birdsell has been publishing fiction to national acclaim for some 25 years, and all her gifts are on display here.”
The Globe and Mail

“Birdsell’s skill at tapping the mindset of Sara and Oliver and the various Vandal children is masterful … The uncanny, precise detailing of daily life highlights the tight seal of tension that clings to every moment … Children of the Day contains a compelling, palpable loveliness. Birdsell’s strength as a storyteller is her ability to excavate hope from ruin.”
Toronto Star

“By zeroing in on one couple, one family, one day, Birdsell is able to deal with decades of history and loss in a haunting portrait both human and geographical. A stunning portrait … the characters are brilliantly drawn and achingly real.”
National Post

“An earthy, vivid portrait of a family coping with the messy business of life. It’s also a brilliant portrait of a country in the making.”

“There’s nary a false note in Children of the Day … of stories such as this was the history of the prairies woven, one family at a time. Skillful and satisfying.”
–Montreal Gazette

"Mennonites. Metis. Massacre. Marvellous"
Globe and Mail

“It’s an earthy, vivid portrait of a family coping with the messy business of life. It’s also a brilliant portrait of a country in the making.”
TIME Magazine

Praise for Sandra Birdsell:
"Birdsell is one of our best writers — no compromise, no hesitance, a full canvas."
—Michael Ondaatje

"In fiction what I long for is a sense of the stories being alive — all hot, rude, contrary, funny, unbearable. You don’t get that nearly often enough, but in Sandra Birdsell’s work you do get it over and over again, and she has the energy, the faith, the skill to make her stories overwhelm us."
—Alice Munro

"With her formidable gift for psychological observation and her uncanny details of daily life a century ago, Birdsell weaves a place as important as any in our literature. By sharing how power is often foisted upon us from an outside world, The Russländer illuminates with an artistic glow of the first rank, the intimate certainty that evil will not dominate kindness, truth or love.”
—Giller Prize Jury Citation

From the Hardcover edition.