________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 15 . . . . March 20, 2009

cover Wolf Pack of the Winisk River.

Paul Brown. Illustrated by Robert Kakegamic.
Montreal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2009.
192 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-897550-10-6.

Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.

excerpt:

he waits
hidden in some tamarack
soon to see the Alpha female arrive
the pups running to her
licking her muzzle to make her throw up meat she has brought them


suddenly a loud thrashing fills Wolf's ears                                                               
two attacking males pound his back with startling heavy impact
a large black wolf and a smaller white one
young and strong and quick
loud snarling the click of large canine teeth
a vicious flurry of fur bloodcurdling cries brute force
he is down on his back
the smell of blood
his attackers ripping at stomach head legs
the bigger of the two trying to pierce his throat and finish him off


Wolf with a surprising thrust rolls over
throwing them off
gains his feet
now his superior weight and strength backs them up
he grabs the smaller by the muzzle and shakes him ferociously
hurling him aside and runs at the bigger with a savage charge
knocking him on his back
standing on his chest
powerful fangs inches from the exposed throat
under the great weight and power
the young wolf only lightly pressing his paws against Wolf's chest

submits

his younger brother runs off into the bush

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Charles G..D. Roberts pioneered the Canadian realistic animal story and penned collections that included Red Fox and Hoof and Claw. In the twenty-first century, Paul Brown's Wolf Pack of the Winisk River continues in Roberts's tradition, but Brown, a retired English teacher, takes the animal story to an entirely new level by telling his story, not in prose, but via free verse. Like the police procedural genre that garners its reader appeal via its detailed attention to the day-to-day work performed by police officers, Wolf Pack of the Winisk River realistically recreates the daily activities of Wolf, a northern grey wolf. Brown's approach to Wolf is definitely not romanticized in any way, and life for Wolf is basically about each day's survival which means his not-always-successfully securing prey while simultaneously avoiding becoming the victim of other predators, both the four and two-legged kind.

     It's April when readers first encounter Wolf, a 175 lb. male whose mate and pups had been killed two years earlier by a rogue black bear. Being a solitary wolf, Wolf, as can be seen by the excerpt, is at risk of being killed by packs of wolves that perceive him to be a threat. However, Wolf's besting the two male wolves leads to his joining the Winisk River pack that consists of the male pair, Black and White, the female, simply known as Mother, and her two five-month-old pups, Tawny and Silver. In late July, a scarcity of prey in the area means that the pack will have to follow the woodland caribou as they migrate northward towards Hudson Bay. It is this thirteen-day journey, and the events that occur during it, that constitute the majority of the novel's contents. A map allows readers to visually follow the wolves' path and to locate where significant happenings took place. The book's northern Ontario locale is real, and Brown has canoed the Winisk River that parallel's the pack's 200 mile travel route.

internal art

     Like the heros in thriller novels, the wolves are always at risk of being killed, and in their case, their deaths could result from humans who attempt to run them down with snowmobiles, hunt them with high powered rifles from aircraft or use poison baited traps, or their lives could be ended by the wolves' intended larger prey whose hooves or antlers could deliver incapacitating or deadly blows. As previously noted, other wolves can also constitute a potentially fatal danger, and the pack's travels take them into the traditional hunting territory of another wolf pack. While the Winisk pack initially consists of six wolves, only four remain at their journey's end.

     Since most Canadians today live in urban areas, they may believe that Canada's wilderness areas, such as the book's Hudson Bay Lowlands setting, to be largely devoid of life, but Brown unobtrusively reveals that these vast expanses of forests, lakes, swamps and rivers teem with animal life that flies, walks or swims and that exists in a form of harsh harmony. Humans are also part of the wolves' environment, and both First Nations and majority culture individuals play passing cameo roles in the wolves' lives, with the former being much more benign.

     As the excerpt reveals, Brown eschews punctuation and also, with the exception of proper names, capitalization. Nonetheless, the book is very easy to read, with its line formatting providing visual guidance as to "how" to read the book. Upon occasion, an extra space inserted between words, as in a vicious flurry of fur bloodcurdling cries brute force , also assists readers in determining the way a line should be read, especially if it is being read out loud, as poetry demands to be. In a reportage-like style, Brown's free verse captures the mundane aspects of the wolves' existence that are frequently punctuated by moments of intense life and death drama.

     As remarked upon earlier, while Brown always places story first, he cannily embeds an enormous amount of factual material about animals into the content of Wolf Pack of the Winisk River . Readers may actually be surprised by how much they have unknowingly learned while reading the book.

     Although the thirteenth day marks the successful end of the pack's journey, readers know that the animals' story is not over, an understanding that is underlined by Brown.

in the fall
they will retrace their long journey
back to their home territory near the shore of Winisk Lake
and they will have many adventures along the way
some good
some bad


     An unexpected bonus is the inclusion of 10 black and white illustrations by Robert Kakegamic, an artist from Sandy Lake, ON, a Swampy Cree (Ojibway) First Nation Community. The illustrations, all of wildlife encountered in the book, include, among others, the expected wolves, an osprey, caribou and a polar bear, and the images evoke a sense of an earlier time when all of these creatures shared the lands with only First Nations peoples.

     Though Wolf Pack of the Winisk River does contain some scenes which could be perceived as "violent," Brown is simply recording what happens in a setting where animals are not pets and where one is either predator or prey (and sometimes both). The reality of this fact will not be lost on the book's intended readers.

     Wolf Pack of the Winisk River is one of this year's "must-buy" books!

Highly Recommended.

Dave Jenkinson, CMs editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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