CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 27 . . . . March 16, 2012
Kookum’s Red Shoes.
Peter Eyvindson. Illustrated by Sheldon Dawson.
Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican Publications, 2011.
32 pp., stapled, $10.95.
Grades 3-4 / Ages 8-9.
Review by Gregory Bryan.
Her tornado had arrived. It rushed up and slammed to a halt just past the wonder world she had created.
She saw the children first. The back of the truck was filled with sad, brown, frightened eyes and tear-stained, dust-covered faces.
A man jumped out, grabbed her around the middle and dragged her over to the truck.
“Where are you taking me?” she screamed.
Pemmican Publications potentially fills a vital niche in Canadian children’s literature as a Métis publishing house conveying important Métis and First Nations stories. Such a story is Pemmican’s new picture book, Kookum’s Red Shoes. The book relates the childhood experiences of a now-elderly woman who was taken from her family and placed in a Residential school when she was a child. It is important that such stories of Canada’s past are told. It is equally important that such stories are well told. The author, Peter Eyvindson, does a good job of that here but, unfortunately, Sheldon Dawson’s illustrations are a disappointment and fall well short of conveying the troubled and troublesome emotions enwrapped in this episode from Canada’s history.
Eyvindson cleverly creates a parallel between the story of Dorothy, from The Wizard of Oz, and the story of his protagonist. Early in the book, the unnamed young girl, who eventually becomes Kookum, goes with her parents to a motion-picture theatre to see the movie, The Wizard of Oz. Shortly thereafter, she is swept up in a tornado of her own in the form of a man in a truck. She is whisked away from her family and swept into an assortment of distressing challenges within her new school. Unlike Dorothy and her ruby slippers, the young girl in Kookum’s Red Shoes is forced to leave her shoes behind, and they remain as a symbol of her treasured past.
The evocative text is deserving of better accompanying illustrations. Dawson’s artwork lacks the texture and depth to make his characters seem real. The facial depictions are little more than simplistic caricatures that essentially present their own stereotypes of the white people as steel-jawed beasts. Many of the illustrations are flat and listless. The flat, brown skin colour, the distorted and often engorged hands and fingers, and the plate of white teeth that look like a boxer’s mouthpiece are all problematic. In several instances, the feet seem to be pointed in the wrong direction, with the left foot where the right should be. The character depictions are uninteresting and lifeless and, therefore, do little to engender sympathy or empathy. The soft green background to the Residential school scenes is a poor colour choice because green is a cool, refreshing and relaxing colour at odds with what is being portrayed in Eyvindson’s text. It would have worked much better to restrict the blues and greens to the opening and concluding scenes and to have used a more sombre palette for the Residential school scenes. An illustrator should recognise these things, and Dawson’s failure to do so demonstrates he was a poor choice for this book. In a competitive market, the illustrations are simply not good enough.
Alone, the text is recommended. Eyvindson’s has done a good job of telling a troublesome story. In conjunction with the illustrations, however, I recommend Kookum’s Red Shoes only with serious reservations.
Recommended with reservations.
Dr. Gregory Bryan specializes in literature for children at University of Manitoba.
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