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HOUSES OF WOOD: NATIVE DWELLINGS OF THE NORTHWEST COAST

Shemie, Bonnie
Montreal, Tundra Books, 1992.24pp, cloth, $13.95, ISBN 0-88776-284-0. CIP


Grades 3 to 8/ Ages 8 to 13

Reviewed by Patricia Fry

Volume 21 Number 2
1993 March


This book is the fourth in an excellent series on Native people and their dwellings. Like its predecessors, Houses of Wood focuses on the homes while giving detailed information on other facets of the particular people's way of life. Again, it uses a similar format with double pages of specific data separated by a two-page colour illustration. There are fifteen black-and-white sketches and six colour illustrations.

Based on their art, particularly as exemplified by the striking totem poles, the Northwest Coast Indians had the most advanced culture of all our Native people. Their civilization extended from northern California through Oregon and British Columbia to southern Alaska. Like all Native people, their way of life was centered on the environment in which they lived; in this case, the northwest coast is a rain forest region covered with massive trees.

The reader learns how the cedars were cut down, hollowed into canoes, and the bark even woven into clothing. It is incredible how, using only small handmade tools and lots of ingenuity, these people used the massive west-coast trees to build the largest and most spectacular wood houses on the continent. Then, as a final expression of an advanced culture, came the decorative designs painted and carved on the buildings and the sculptured totems that so awed the first European explorers who found them.

The author's admiration for the genius of Native people in solving problems of shelter propels each book and her training in architecture provides balance. Already published are Houses of Snow, Skin and Bones and Houses of Bark. Shemie is currently working on the fifth book in the series, Houses of Straw and Mud. These books also help students continue their own research by providing a bibliography of books, museums and resource people on the copyright page of each book.

Studies on Canada's Native people are undertaken at many stages of the school curriculum. Accordingly, these books are an excellent research tool for school and public libraries.

Highly recommended.


Patricia Fry is a teacher-librarian with the Peel Board of Education in Mississauga, Ontario
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