Don't let them take him. You are to stay together."" So, to keep her promise to her dying mother, 13-year-old Elspeth MacDonald makes off (in 1903) with four-year-old Robbie to Canada: she has the tickets Pa purchased before his fatal accident, a hundred pounds of family savings, and hope of finding Uncle Donald and Aunt Maud in Manitoba. But, Elspeth, yarns Robbie aboard the train from Glasgow to Liverpool, they must lie low, be ""Shadow Bairns,"" lest they be intercepted. It's an irresistible journey--at once poignant and peril-strewn and bright with expectations--until, late on, the plot twists into a tangle of misunderstandings. First, though, we have the crossing on the Lake Manitoba--overbooked by zealous (or greedy?) Reverend Bart, leader of the expedition to the new Promised Land, but ideal for playing at Shadow Bairns; the cross-country train journey, under the aegis of a solicitous conductor (who believes that the two have just been separated from their parents); the rugged wagon ride north to the colony, thanks to the money Elspeth has stashed away (and her tales of an awaiting Uncle Donald); and then, at journey's end--disaster. For all her gabbling, Elspeth has given up hope of finding Uncle Donald. . . along with the confidence that she and Robbie would be welcome. Now, she recovers from several days' illness to discover Robbie and her money gone! When she eventually finds him, he's happily settled with solid farmer Mr. Beattie and brusque Mrs. Beattie--who, it turns out, had recently lost her own small son. And though Elspeth has other offers, she too elects to stay with the Beatties: like the other misled settlers (the Reverend was a pious fraud), she's going to work to make the colony succeed. True, a plethora of minor-character complications are chucked in toward the close; but the book doesn't settle for easy or sentimental solutions. Best of all, however, is the sometimes buoyant, sometimes anxious passage from grim Glasgow to even ""dirtier and shabbier"" Saskatoon.