SCHEMENAUER, Elma




Author Tags: Fiction

Elma Schemenauer is the author of 75 books, mostly educational titles published in Canada and the USA. Born near the village of Elbow, Saskatchewan, Elma Schemenauer first learned the traditions of her extended Mennonite family. After teaching for several years, she moved into a publishing career in Toronto. In 2006, she and her husband Robert relocated to Kamloops.

In her adult novel, Consider the Sunflowers (Borealis 2014), it's 1940 and Tina Janz doesn't want to marry the man her pious Mennonite parents have chosen for her. He's as boring as turnips compared with her half-Gypsy boyfriend Frank Warkentin. Obsessed with the dashing Frank, Tina leaves her job in Vancouver to marry him. However, her joy is soon overshadowed by loneliness on Frank's farm in the prairie community of Coyote, Saskatchewan. When he shuns local Mennonites because some of them scorn his mixed parentage, Tina feels torn between her Mennonite heritage and her husband. Their son's death drives the couple farther apart. Then fresh challenges send them stumbling toward a new understanding of love, loyalty, faith, and freedom.

In 2017, Elma Schemenauer’s YesterCanada: Historical Tales of Mystery and Adventure (Borealis $19.95) will present thirty historical tales from the 1200s to the 1900s. Subjects include the lost Vancouver-based ship Baychimo to the mysterious chapel bell in Tadoussac, Quebec. And then there’s Tom Sukkanen, the Minnesota farmer who walked to Saskatchewan and build an ocean-going ship on his prairie farm. As well as Ontario's daring Lady Agnes, Nova Scotia's migrating Normanites, gold-seekers in Alberta, and a Manitoba Cree chief who gave his life for the woman he loved. 978-0-88887-650-8

Elma Schemenauer's mother, Agatha, worked in Vancouver as a young woman. She was one of the “Daughters in the City” described in Ruth Derksen Siemens’ book of that name. Agatha eventually left to marry her sweetheart back in rural Saskatchewan, a life that was fictionalized in Consider the Sunflowers in which the mMain character, Tina Janz, leaves Vancouver to marry the bad boy of her Saskatchewan Mennonite community.

Elma Martens Schemenauer is a first-generation daughter of Russian Mennonite immigrants to Saskatchewan. She spent her early years in a farming community between Elbow and Davidson, Saskatchewan. This community, in the rural municipality of Willner, later inspired the fictional setting for her novel Consider the Sunflowers.

Growing up, Elma enjoyed her relatives' stories about Russia and their first years in Saskatchewan. Mennonites were a minority in her community, which was mainly Scandinavian and British. However, the Mennonites maintained their traditions and their own church, where Elma sometimes played the organ for the singing.

After high school in Elbow, Elma attended Briercrest Bible Institute (now College) at Caronport, Saskatchewan. She graduated with a diploma in Christian education. Later she attended the Universities of Saskatchewan and Toronto, earning a BA in English and psychology, and qualifying as a teacher.

Elma began her teaching career in Saskatchewan. Then, under the auspices of the Mennonite Brethren Board of Missions and Services, she taught English in Nova Scotia. From teaching she moved into a publishing career in Toronto, where she enjoyed many years of editing and writing.

BOOKS:

FICTION

Consider the Sunflowers (Borealis 2014) 978-0-88887-575-4 $19.95

Jacob Jacobs Gets Up Early (Nimbus) 1-55109-030-9

Yesterstories series. Four books of historical short stories published by Prentice Hall & Globe/Modern
Fish and Ships 0-88996-039-9,
The Lost Lemon Mine 0-88996-030-5,
The Ghostly Trapper 0-88996-028-3,
The Lady with the Missing Finger 0-88996-032-1

PICTURE BOOKS

Picture book published by McClelland & Stewart
Newton McTootin and the Bang Bang Tree 0702-6803

Two values picture books published by Grolier
What It Means to Be a Friend 07172-2225-X, What It Means to Be Responsible 0-7172-2226-8

HISTORY AND COMMUNITY LIFE

Three books published by Weigl
Ottawa 0-896990-49-5, Victoria 0-896990-53-3, Calgary 0-896990-51-7

Published by Children's Press of Chicago
New True Book: Canada 0-516-01056-4

Thirteen books published by Child's World of Chanhassen, Minnesota
Brazil 1-56766-579-7,
Canada 1-56766-914-X,
England 1-56766-735-X,
Ethiopia 1-56766-713-9,
Guatemala 1-56766-578-0,
Haiti 1-56766-715-5,
Iran 1-56766-738-4,
Israel 1-56766-600-0,
Japan 1-56766-371-0,
The Philippines 1-56766-601-9,
Russia 1-56766-582-9,
Somalia 1-56766-911-5,
Uganda 1-56766-914-X

Sixteen books published by GLC-Silver Burdett
Hello Calgary 0-88874-251-7, Hello Charlottetown 0-88874-252-5, Hello Edmonton 0-88874-253-3, Hello Fredericton 0-88874-254-1, Hello Halifax 0-88874-255-X, Hello Montreal 0-88874-256-8, Hello Ottawa 0-88874-257-6, Hello Quebec City 0-88874-258-4, Hello Regina 0-88874-259-2, Hello St. Johns 0-88874-260-6, Hello Toronto 0-88874-261-4, Hello Vancouver 0-88874-262-2, Hello Victoria 0-88874-263-0, Hello Whitehorse 0-88874-264-9, Hello Winnipeg 0-88874-265-7, Hello Yellowknife 0-88874-266-5

Published by Pearson
Making History: The Story of Canada in the Twentieth Century (co-author) 0-13-083287-1

Two books published by Prentice Hall
Atlantic Canada in the Global Community (co-author) 0-13-727876-4, Counterpoints: Exploring Canadian Issues (co-author) 0-13-088877-X

Published by Scholastic of New York

Scholastic World Cultures: Canada (co-author) 0-590-34411-0

ETHNIC MINORITIES

Published by Weigl
Special Canadian Communities 0-919879-16-0

Published by Nelson
Native Canadians Today and Long Ago 0-17-602328-3

Published by Farland
Jacob Siemens Family Since 1685: Includes Early Mennonites 0-921718-04-7

ASSORTED

Two books published by Farland
The Psychology of Driving (with John Sawatsky) 0-921718-02-0, Breadspeed: Wonderful No-Knead Yeast Breads in Two Hours 0-921718-00-4

Two books published by Grolier
Salmon 0-7172-1917-8, Pronghorn Antelopes 0-7172-1933-X

Two books published by Stoddart
Free Stuff for Kids 1988 edition 0-7737-5783-X , Free Stuff for Kids 1989 edition 0-7737-5280-3

Two books published by Ginn
Starting Points in Reading D Skills Practice Book 0-7702-0728-6, Starting Points in Reading E Revised 0-7702-0675-1

Three books published by Globe/Modern
Libraries 0-88996-276-6, Shopping Malls 0-88996-252-9, Fast Food Places 0-88996-274-X

BIOGRAPHY

Published by Grolier
John A. Macdonald 0-7172-1948-8

Published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson
(Numerous biographies of scientists in Sciencepower series and in Biology 11, Chemistry 11, Physics 11, Biology 12, Physics 12)

COMPUTER SOFTWARE

Published by Hartley
The Medallists Canadian Cities

WRITING

Published by Ginn
Starting Points in Language C Skills Practice Book 0-7702-0737-5, Starting Points in Language E Revised 0-7702-0675-1

Two books published by Prentice Hall & Globe/Modern
The Writing Programme 1 (with David Booth) 0-88996-178-6, The Writing Programme 2 (with David Booth) 0-88996-180-8

TEACHERS' BOOKS

Published by Scholastic of New York
Scholastic World Cultures: Canada Teaching Guide (with Sarah Swartz) 0-590-34412-9

Two books published by Creative Edge of Getzville, New York
The Magnetic Way into Early Childhood Basic Language and Math Skills, The Magnetic Way into Early Childhood: The Circus Program Manual 1-56069-169-7

Published by The Wright Group of San Diego
Language Connections 4 1-55624-716-8

Six books published by Prentice Hall & Globe/Modern
Yesterstories Teachers Guide 0-88996-034-8, The Writing Programme 1 Teacher's Guide (with David Booth) 0-88996-179-4, The Writing Programme 2 Teacher's Guide (with David Booth) 0-88996-181-6, The Writing Programme: Write Away: Teacher's Guide (co-author) 0-88996-087-9, The Writing Programme: Write Along: Teacher's Guide (co-author) 0-88996-089-5, The Writing Programme: Write Again: Teacher's Guide (co-author) 0-88996-091-7

Published by Weigl
Special Canadian Communities Teachers Guide 0-91987-917-9

Published by GLC-Silver Burdett
Hello Cities Teacher Resource Book 0-88874-271-1

Two books published by Ginn
Starting Points in Reading D Teachers' Guide 0-7702-0717-0, Starting Points in Reading D Skills Practice Book: Teachers' Guide 0-7702-0728-6

Published by Science Research Associates & SEEDS (Society, Environment & Energy Development Studies)
Professional Reference Guide

Published by Prentice Hall & Globe/Modern
Yesterstories Teacher's Guide 0-88996-034-8

[BCBW 2014] "Mennonite"

Consider the Sunflowers
Review (2015)



Review by Deb Elkink

CONSIDER THE SUNFLOWERS, a 1940s historical prairie novel, sweeps the reader back in time to a very specific cultural setting. Tina, a young Mennonite woman with dreams of love, gives up her Vancouver city career to return to her religious community in Saskatchewan and marry Frank, a gypsy-wild farmer devoid of Christian faith. The plotline follows the couple’s tribulations and triumphs as they struggle to form a lasting bond despite differences in spiritual beliefs and personal expectations.

Schemenauer has done her research; the novel’s setting rings true to anyone raised on a farm or listening to grandparents’ stories of prairie life. Descriptions of a blizzard, references to cow milking, and instructions on how to climb through a barbed-wire fence invite the reader to share in the agricultural realities of a passing era. Adding to the story’s realism is Schemenauer’s obvious acquaintance with the ethnic practices and attitudes of western Canadian Mennonites. Many of her allusions to country life hold added meaning when she applies religious commentary; for example, Frank feels Tina’s faith is “a guide rope for their lives together” (an allusion to the means used for crossing a barnyard in a snowstorm), and coyotes howling at night sound to Tina like “‘lost souls.’ Sometimes she felt like a lost soul herself.” This connection between spiritual life and rural conditions becomes particularly poignant (and delightfully bone chilling) in a scene in which a mother’s obsessive love keeps her returning to the corpse of her child stored for the winter in an icehouse—the daughter, she testifies, being “in heaven, safe with Jesus.” Even this grisly picture promotes the historical plausibility of the plot and the way religion plays into the characters’ everyday lives.

The mood of the novel is established by both its themes and the authorial voice. That is, Schemenauer introduces some big issues (such as the role of women; tenets of theology; the characteristics of honesty, trust, and fidelity within relationships), and she does so in tones that fit each of the characters struggling to understand and apply faith to their individual situations. For example, with marriage as the key topic, romance throughout the story takes on differing expressions. Dorrie is a flirt hungry for love because her father “messed with her,” and her subsequent view of church worship is shallow. Tina dithers over whom to marry, rejecting upright but “boring as turnips” Roland in favour of exciting but spiritually ambivalent Frank, whom she at first thinks “just need[s] a good woman to settle him down” but whose love she’s “never been sure of.” For his part, unregenerate Frank, rejecting the Mennonite fellowship he believes has first rejected him, seems motivated largely by his sexual appetites, described in somewhat graphic terms (on the couch he shifts “to hide his rising passion” and slumps back, “throbbing with frustration”).

But the author’s earthy innuendo is juxtaposed against her more prevalent and folksy imagery, which lends a fresh naïveté to the overall tone of the novel. Schemenauer writes in a clean style, without typos or grammatical glitches or historical bloopers to break the reader out of the narrative. Her facility in diction and vocabulary, and her excellent syntax and consistency of style allow the reader to stay in the fictional dream she creates. Her overuse of simile, however, can be distracting: Tina “felt like liverwurst in a sandwich,” hair drooped from her cap “like trickles of molasses,” and her face was “as pale as cottage cheese”; her father was “snoring like a threshing machine,” and “Frank’s laugh was as sharp as a Russian thistle.” That said, many of the word pictures function as reminders of ethnic foods and domestic life, immersing the reader more fully into the rural Mennonite experience.

A main message in CONSIDER THE SUNFLOWERS is that life is not easy, not simple—especially in matters of the heart—and that the hard work of living and loving will produce its own reward, with submission to God only easing (not erasing) the pain. Schemenauer shows us that both marriage and faith are susceptible to a person’s decisions and attitudes, often rooted in upbringing. For example, Frank’s wandering ways are blamed on parental desertion: “ ‘Frank’s a wind chaser like his mother. It’s in his blood. He can’t help it.’ ” Again, Tina’s emotional dalliance with an old boyfriend, sparked by her husband’s shortcomings and her own bitterness, manipulation, and dishonesty, blinds her to Frank’s good character traits and to God’s provisions; at one point she feels she might “reel off into some howling void” when, in a state of guilt, she holds a punitive view of faith, unable to “shake the feeling that God, or somebody a lot like him, [is] always just around the corner, keeping score.”

In some ways this novel is a cautionary tale: the reader is advised to take care in choosing a spouse and to be ready to sacrifice, for no one is perfect. CONSIDER THE SUNFLOWERS is a credible rendition of the tenuousness of marriage and the nature of romance (and even lust) as it matures into committed love, with inherent warnings about the wisdom necessary in selecting a mate, the selflessness needed to weather the trials of relationships, the inevitability of disappointment, and the hope of redemption through trusting Jesus Christ.

-- Deb Elkink is author of an award-winning novel The Third Grace and of a literary analysis on the fiction of G.K. Chesterton. She has a Master’s degree in Historical Theology [Briercrest Seminary 2001].)