CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 11. . . .November 13, 2009
Thomas and the Métis Cart = Tumaas ekwa li Michif Sharey. (Michif Children's Series).
Bonnie Murray. Illustrated by Sheldon Dawson. Translated by Rita Flamond.
Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican, 2008.
32 pp., pbk., $10.95.
Red River cart-Juvenile fiction.
Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
"Good morning class," said Mr. Johnston. "Are you anxious to find out about the science project?"
"YES!" they all said.
"Well, wait no longer because the science project is to make something on wheels. You can use wood, paper, string, glue, tape and cardboard. You should make it from scratch and get help from someone."
"So what should we do first?" asked Nicole.
Mr. Johnston then explained, "The first thing you will need to do is decide what you want to make and what materials you will use to make it. Then you can decide how to make it. When completed you will have to give a presentation to the class about your project. The due date is two weeks from now. Good luck!"
According to a back cover blurb, Thomas and the Métis Cart is "the fourth and final book of the [Michif Children's] series. In each of the previous collaborations involving this trio of author, illustrator and translator, Thomas was introduced to an aspect of his Metis cultural heritage, beginning with the Michif language in Li Minoush and followed by the Métis flag in Li Paviyon de Michif, and the Métis sash in Li Saennchur Fleshii di Michif.
As the above excerpt explains, Thomas' science class calls for him to make something with wheels. When Thomas tells his parents of his school need, his father suggests that they build a model Red River Cart, the idea being prompted by a newspaper article explaining that a full-size cart was being recreated for the Aboriginal Games in Winnipeg. While father and son work together to create the model, Thomas' dad briefly explains the role that such carts played in Métis history.
Unfortunately, the plot of Thomas and the Métis Cart is very, very thin, and the five sentences of information that Dad shares with Thomas about the Red River cart are even thinner. To say that "Long ago, our ancestors used these carts to travel the prairies in search of buffalo" could leave youngsters with the incorrect impression that these noisy carts were directly used in the buffalo hunt, itself. The interesting factual tidbit about the carts' axles collecting dirt and small pebbles, "eventually forcing the carts to stop," is incomplete. With no CAA to call, what did the cart drivers do? So much more could have been said about the Métis/Red River cart. For instance, why were the wheels so high? What larger role did "brigades" and "trains" of carts play in trade and transport between Red River and other settlements? What did carters do when they had to cross a river? What caused the carts' demise?
Murray throws in a surprise ending when Mr. Johnston, the science teacher, suddenly announces that Thomas is "the First Prize winner for the best and original science project." While young readers will be pleased for Thomas, nowhere had Murray previously indicated that the science project was of a competitive nature.
In terms of book design, Thomas and the Métis Cart maintains the pattern established in the three previous volumes. One page of each pair of facing pages is taken up by Dawson's illustration while the other page presents Murray's text in English and Flamand's Michif translation, with the two texts being separated by an illustration of a small detail taken from Dawson's full-page illustration.
Recommended with reservations.
Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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