CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 6 . . . .November 12, 2004
Twelve-year-old Aboriginal youth Jesse Picard was sent by his mother on a camping trip in the forests adjoining Lake Huron to meet his late father's relatives for the very first time. A totally unexpected "vision quest" had transformed him into a deer living in a crucial period in First Nations history. Jesse had learned some of the history of his people, the Wendat, or Huron, from his uncle. In 1643, the Wendat had to choose between seeking shelter from the invading Iroquois at Ste. Marie, the French fort, or heading east for Quebec. Only Jesse knew that the fort would soon be destroyed by the French themselves. How could he warn the Wendat people when he was trapped in the body of a deer? Jesse's ingenious solution was to pretend to be an animal spirit guide.
"History is my passion, especially Canadian history," first time author and teacher Christopher Dinsdale said in a recent interview. (If you wish hyperlink to http://www.yorkregion.com/yr/newscentre/erabanner/story/2222114p-2575059c.html).
Dinsdale makes use of his love of history by using the time-slip, or historical fantasy, genre. He plays with the genre is several ways. While most time-slip protagonists are girls, his heroes are boys. They are not suburban whites; they are First Nations youth from the city and from the country. Dinsdale visits a writing territory also explored by Barbara Smucker in her 1985 novel White Mist, another story of First Nations youth going back in time to discover their culture and heritage. Dinsdale cleverly uses the aboriginal teenager's "vision quest" as the vehicle to transport his main character back in time. Instead of finding an animal spirit guide to tell him the message that he needs to hear, Jesse becomes an animal messenger himself for another aboriginal youth back in 1643.
For time-slip novels, the method of entry to the past is usually the sole fantasy device. Dinsdale takes a chance by using the animal device, risking the suspension of disbelief, but he manages to pull it off. The vision quest and the animal guide allow this meshing of aboriginal and Western story telling conventions. While it may be inherently perilous for a White author to go into the writing area of First Nations fiction, Dinsdale makes no obvious missteps (at least none that this reviewer, a member of the majority culture, can see.) Dinsdale's use of gentle boy's jokes reminded me of the "Screech Owl" series at times. The reading level is an accessible Grade 4, and so this may be a novel to give to that teacher's bane, the reluctant boy reader. It is very informative about First Nations history, and, while some of its historical facts seem repeated at times, the plot keeps moving briskly along at a pace which will satisfy a young reader. The author has created a solid first novel.
Winnipeg's Dave Watson is a Media Technician with Manitoba Education, wannabe teacher and environmental activist (www.geocities.com/waverleywest).
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.