________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 14 . . . . March 18, 2005

cover Silver Threads.

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. Illustrated by Michael Martchenko.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1996/2004.
32 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-55041-903-X.

Subject Headings:
World War, 1914-1918-Ukrainian Canadians-Juvenile fiction.
World War, 1914-1918-Concentration camps-Canada-Juvenile fiction.
World War, 1914-1918-Evacuation of civilians-Juvenile fiction.
Ukrainian Canadians-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.

Review by Lorraine Douglas.

*** /4


Their last night together was Sviat Vecher - Christmas Eve. With a heavy heart, Anna prepared the meatless dishes, then counted to make sure she had the traditional twelve.

She set a sheaf of wheat - a didukh - in the corner of the room. Then she and Ivan cut down a fir tree. It was not a difficult job for two - one to push the saw and the other to pull.

Ivan decorated the tree with cookies and a few shiny apples. But the festive house made them feel even sadder. Early Christmas morning they walked hand in hand to the distant village so that Ivan could enlist as a soldier.

"It will be hard for you to run the homestead by yourself," he told Anna. "You can push, but I won't be there to pull."

This picture book story was first published in hardcover in 1996 by Penguin Books and the original edition was translated into Ukrainian. It is the story of Anna and her husband, Ivan, who escape their oppressive life in Ukraine. They immigrate to Canada just before World War I. The couple work very hard to clear their homestead and build their house in the Canadian west. When Ivan goes to volunteer for the Canadian army, he is imprisoned in an internment camp for "enemy aliens." Anna continues to try to clear their land, but she is threatened by a government official. They will lose their land if it is not cleared in time, and, when the war ends, Ivan does not return home from the camp. Miraculously, he eventually finds his home because he sees the shining Christmas tree which has been transformed by a spider into a tapestry of silver threads.

internal art     The legend of spiders transforming a Christmas tree is the theme of Shirley Climo's earlier picture book, The Cobweb Christmas (Crowell, 1982). Climo's telling is set in Germany, and spiders provide old Tante with a magical Christmas. But Skrypuch's story introduces young readers to the realities of the historic injustices done to Ukrainian immigrants to Canada and blends both fantasy and realism. This is similar to her picture book Enough (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2000) on the topic of the Ukrainian Famine of the 1930's, a book which contained both magical and historic elements. It was also illustrated by Michael Martchenko, but his illustrations in Enough are more similar to his "Munsch-style" illustrations in their cartoon characters and bright colours.

     Silver Threads is reminiscent in some ways of Takashima's A Child in Prison Camp (Tundra, 1971) in that both books are concerned with the unjust internment of Canadians in war time, but Takashima's work is nonfiction and presents its material for a much older intended audience. Skrypuch's work is part of a larger publishing trend in which complex social and historical issues are explored in the picture book format. It is a limiting format to explore these issues in the brevity required for the format. Skrypuch based this story on her grandfather's experiences, and his story would be very interesting as a work of nonfiction with more development, details and archival materials.

     The full colour paintings by Michael Martchenko are very nicely rendered. They are realistic images and are filled with interesting details like the old style telephone, the embroidery on Anna's clothing and the poignant candle-lit dinner scene with the twelve traditional dishes. These paintings carefully capture Ukrainian traditions, the immigrant experience in Canada and the characters of Ivan and Anna.

     Silver Threads was the winner of the 1995 Taras Shevchenko writing award and was selected by the Ontario Library Association as a "Best Bet for 1996".

     Recommended for picture book collections and especially those serving Ukrainian Canadian communities.


Lorraine is a Winnipeg, MB, artist and writer who worked as a children's librarian and Youth Services Coordinator at the Winnipeg Public Library.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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