Dear Canada: A step back in time


To Stand On My Own

To Stand On My Own
The Polio Epidemic Diary of Noreen Robertson

By Barbara Haworth-Attard

ISBN: 978-1-4431-0017-5 Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-4431-2815-5 Ebook
192 pages | Ages 9-12 | 5 3/8" x 7 5/8"

In the summer of 1937, life on the Prairies is not easy. The Great Depression has brought great hardship, and young Noreen's family must scrimp to make ends meet.

In a horrible twist of fate, Noreen, like hundreds of other young Canadians, contracts polio and is placed in an isolation ward, unable to move her legs. After a few weeks she gains partial recovery, but her family makes the painful decision to send her to a hospital far away for further treatment.

To Stand On My Own is Noreen's diary account of her journey through recovery: her treatment; life in the ward; the other patients, some of them far worse off than her; adjustment to life in a wheelchair and on crutches; and ultimately, the emotional and physical hurdles she must face when she returns home.

In this moving addition to the Dear Canada series, award-winning author Barbara Haworth-Attard recreates a desolate time in Canadian history, and one girl's brave fight against a deadly disease.

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From Noreen's diary:

Friday, July 16, 1937

My 12th Birthday!

I was sick for two days. I'm feeling better now, but Mother says I have to rest one more day, so I can't have my afternoon birthday tea. I started to cry and Mother said not to be silly and that I could have it next week and we'd pretend it was my birthday all over again. She felt my forehead for fever so many times in the last two days my head is still aching.

I did have a fever, too, and my legs and back were aching. Mother said I had heatstroke.

I'm lying on the old couch in the screened front porch while writing this so I can get a bit of air. It smells. The couch, I mean, not the air. Mother and Grandpa are in the kitchen. We finally got some rain today, though Grandpa told Mother it was not enough to save the crops. We haven't had a good harvest in four years. Grandpa said it was because we're a one-crop province — wheat — and when the bottom went out of the market for wheat (I'm not sure what bottom he means) there were no other crops to fall back on, so we ended up in the sorry position we're in now. Grandpa said that the population of Saskatoon has gone down instead of up because people are moving East looking for work.

I'm too tired to write any more. Grandpa says I should do some reading as it wouldn't tire me out. I'm not too fond of reading, except my favourite book, Heidi.

Friday, July 30, 1937

In the hospital.

It has been a long time since I wrote in here. A nurse brought my diary to me today. Grandpa had given it to her. She told me to call her Nurse Betty. He also gave her a message for me — that words can be friends when you are lonely, and that writing your fears down, seeing them written on paper, makes the fears lessen. I think Grandpa made Nurse Betty memorize that part, because she almost sounded like him. I miss him and Edmund and Mother and Dad so much. They are not allowed to see me because I am in the isolation ward, which is an entirely separate building from the regular hospital. It's to keep our germs from spreading around.

Saturday, July 31, 1937

All the nurses and doctors wear masks so only their eyes show. One time when I was very sick, I thought they were ghosts and screamed because I thought I was dead.

There are two regular nurses here; Nurse Betty is nice, but Nurse Winter is crabby. The hospital smells of medicine, food and poop (I'm not supposed to say that word but my diary is secret). I'm scared here. I can't write anymore because my arms are too tired. I have to hold the book over my head and my right arm shakes so much I can't write properly.

Sunday, August 1, 1937

I have polio.

The day I came to the hospital, an old doctor who has big black eyebrows like caterpillars made grumpy Nurse Winter roll me up on my side, and then he stuck a needle in my back. It hurt very badly. I had to lie completely still afterwards.

The needle was to take spinal fluid to test for polio, so that's how they know I have it. Nurse Betty told me I'm over the worst of the initial illness, but I'm still really scared. Mother and Aunt Ella have a school friend who had polio and she is crippled and has to lie in bed all day because she can't walk. Others who've had it have to use crutches. People can die from polio!

Maybe if I say the word polio enough times, it won't be so scary. I think I'll have to say it a lot, though.

Mother and Dad were finally allowed to see me today, though it was through the door's glass window because I am still in the isolation ward at the City Hospital and Nurse Winter said they couldn't come in to see me directly, because they might catch my disease. I was going to tell her that Dad had carried me into the hospital and Mother had held me in Grandpa's car, and they hadn't gotten polio, but I thought that was saucy, so I didn't. My legs hurt so bad at times, it makes me cry. The muscles in my back get all hard and it makes me curve my back. My right arm is getting better, but it still took me ALL day just to write this!

Monday, August 2, 1937

Here is a secret I'm not supposed to know: I just overheard the caterpillar-eyebrow doctor tell Nurse Betty that I am paralyzed from the waist down.


I am so scared. My legs don't move one bit, and my toes don't wiggle, though I try and try to make them. They also hurt terribly. It feels like all my leg bones are held together with tight wire. The caterpillar doctor ran a tongue depressor down the sole of my foot and even that hurt! I wonder why I can feel the tongue depressor, yet my legs won't move. I keep telling my brain to move my legs, but they won't.


I can't sleep because there is a small boy in here with me, named Eugene, who also has polio and he is having trouble breathing. I keep getting scared he'll stop. There is a woman here too, who I think has polio, but I don't know her name. She has screens around her bed all the time. It's very lonely in here. I miss Mother and Dad, Grandpa and James and Edmund and Bessie. I'm so scared I'm going to die.

From Dear Canada: To Stand On My Own, copyright © 2010 by Barbara Haworth-Attard.


Although To Stand On My Own isn't my favourite Dear Canada book, it has a very special place in my heart. I have cerebral palsy and it was so nice to read about a girl going through similar challenges I face. Please continue to extend the series!
Abby N., Age: 14, Ontario, Rating: 10

This book is amazing I never wanted to put it down. I had no idea what polio was until I read this book and the pictures on the back are amazing.
Erika T., Age: 12, Rating: 10

I love the book!! I think I have read it at least three times and am on my fourth. It is just so cool. At school I heard of Sister Kenny and it is nice to read about it in this book. I suggest other people to read it too!!
Sara S., Age: 11, Alberta, Rating: 10

Ok, So, I realllyyyyy loved this book.... I live near Saskatoon so it makes it seem so much more real. Polio is such a horrible disease. I loved reading this, I have read many other Dear Canadas but this is definitely one of my favourites. For those who are reading this and wondering if they should read it, definitely do, it is sad, and happy, and just a good book....
Kelsi C., Age: 12, Saskatchewan, Rating: 10

I've read this book 6 times, and every time it gets even better. Sad, funny, amazing! Best book I've ever read, and I really hope more of these type of books come out! AMAZING! So intriguing, hard to put down~ I really want to own this book, but I borrow it from every library!!!!
V., Age: 12, Ontario, Rating: 10

Ok, I LOVE this book soooooooooooooooooooo much beacause my great grandma Rennie had polio.
Somaya S., Age: 9, British Columbia, Rating: 10

Noreen was really brave during her polio disease. I could not put the book down!
Melissa R., Age: 9, Prince Edward Island, Rating: 9

I had never read a Dear Canada Book and always wanted a book like that, about history. Then one day for my birthday I received a Dear Canada book and started reading it. It was like I couldn't stop it was so interesting!! Now every time I get a chance I will read a Dear Canada book. I really encourage others to read To Stand On My Own, and I'm sure if you read it just once you will want to read more books too!!
Sara S., Age: 11, Alberta, Rating: 10

To Stand On My Own was a beautiful book because it all about a girl who had a disease called polio. I just LOVE IT ALOT:))))) <3
Len R., Age: 12, Ontario, Rating: 10

I found this book really sad and I was crying through this book. I felt so bad for Eugene because he was in an iron lung but in the book it never said how it worked. I love the epilogue even though I cried through it. I liked that it had what happened to the characters
Emma P., Age: 12, Prince Edward Island, Rating: 9

To Stand On My Own was the first Dear Canada book I read (I've read almost half) and it is my fave with If I Die Before I Wake. They are both soooo sad! Since I like Dear Canada I thought my friends would too and they love them!!!! I LOVE DEAR CANADA!!!!!!!!
Jennifer S., Age: 11, Saskatchewan, Rating: 10

This was my first Dear Canada book. I bought in when my family and I went to visit my grandparents in Ontario. I have asked my grandparents to send me more. It is by far the best book I've ever read.
Emma C., Age: 10, U.S.A., Rating: 10

To Stand On My Own is a very good book. I read it three times already. Amazing!
Danielle B., Age: 11, Nova Scotia, Rating: 10

I think this is the best book in the world
Peyton, Age: 8, Saskatchewan, Rating: 10

I truly loved this book. Noreen is so real and life-like. I learned so much. It felt like I was there! I can't give any criticism.
Laura P., Age: 12, British Columbia, Rating: 10

I loved this book! All the Dear Canada books are great! Next I’m hoping for a Dear Canada book about the Vietnam War.
Sophie T., Age: 12, Ontario, Rating: 10

I liked it, it was kinda scary, great book.
Morgan E., Age: 11, British Columbia, Rating: 8

I really loved the story. I thought me and Noreen were kind of the same but different, but I kept on reading until the end. I would suggest this to everyone who reads Dear Canada. It rocked!!
Zoe B., Age: 11, Ontario Rating: 10

This book is amazing!!!
Emma E., Age: 11, New Brunswick, Rating: 10

The first book I read in the Dear Canada series - it is such a good book. I now LOVE Dear Canada books!!!!! I got to learn a lot about polio!
Isabella B., Age: 9, British Columbia Rating: 10

This book was wonderful. This girl really needed people who cared about her. Even though she struggles with polio she is still brave. I wish it was longer.
Marie C., Age 11, Ontario, Rating: 10

Out of all the Dear Canada books I have ever read, this is my favorite, along with my best friends,too! The way she puts her story in such a descriptive way. Me and Maddy hope to work as Dear Canada book writer with our favorite author - Barbara Haworth-Attard.
Megan R., Age 9, Newfoundland and Labrador, Rating: 10

This book is great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I loved it and I even bought it! I let everybody read it too because I love sharing great books!
Natalie :) N., Age 11, Ontario, Rating: 10

I enjoyed this book very much. I love history. This was a great way to learn about the polio epidemic and how the world had to face it. Noreen was very strong and she never gave up.
Emily C., Age 11, Rating: 9

Before I had read any Dear Canada books, Auntie Glenna got me this one. I loved it sooo much that I got the rest of the Dear Canada's from the library. This one is still my favourite! As Noreen's grampa says, "Life is a funny thing. If I hadn't read this book, I would of never thought of reading all the others and learne about Canadian History!"
Morgan L., Age 10, Nova Scotia Rating: 10

This book was so good to hear about a girl with polio! I was personally touched the book is so good! My goal is to read the whole series!!!
Emily, Age 13, Manitoba, Rating: 10

I loved this book. I love to read Dear Canada books. In this book it is sooooo cool to be able to see someone's point of view that had polio.
Cosette S., Age 11, Ontario Rating: 10

This book was amazing! It was sometimes sad and sometimes joyful. I LOVE the Dear Canada series and even though I have 20 of them, this one was my favourite!
Kirsten H., Age 11, Ontario, Rating: 10

Great book, no pictures it's a diary from a girl back in the days of polio. It leaves you wanting the book to continue.
Rachel L., Yukon, Rating: 9