________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 22. . . .February 8, 2013


The Blacksmith's Apprentice.

James Robert Chambers. Illustrated by James Mathieu Chambers.
Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican Publications, 2012.
28 pp., stapled pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-894717-69-4.

Kindergarten-grade 4 / Ages 5-9.

Review by Stacey Matson.

*** /4



When they arrived at the shop, the blacksmith let them come right inside. "My name is Andre," he said. "Welcome to my shop. I see that you are the young girl who sits by my shop door. What would you like to know about blacksmithing?" Andre asked.

"Everything!" Catherine replied.

"Well," said Andre, "let's start at the beginning. This shop where I work is a smithy, and I am called the smith. All the tools here are used to make hot metal into lots of different things.

Today I am making horseshoes. I will heat the metal in my forge. I will pick the hot metal up, using my tongs, then I will shape the metal over my anvil, using my blacksmith's hammer.

"Would you like me to show you?" said Andre.

Catherine watched closely as Andre made the horseshoe. "So what did you like best?" asked Andre when he finished

"I like the sound of the hammer hitting the anvil - ring, ring, ping, ping all day long," she said.


The Blacksmith's Apprentice tells the story of Catherine, a young girl yearning to be a blacksmith. Every day she sits outside the smithy, listening to the chimes of the hammer against metal and watching with awe as the molten metal becomes something else. When the blacksmith's apprentice moves on and there is no one left to help, Catherine steps forward and asks to be Andre's next apprentice to the trade. With the approval of her father and the willingness of Andre the blacksmith, Catherine becomes something no one has ever heard of before a female blacksmith!

     As James Robert Chambers writes before the story begins, this story is meant to inspire young girls to strive toward the unfamiliar and look for careers that may not be traditionally viewed as work that women can do. The story is simple, and the message is strong. Catherine is unwavering in her goal to become a blacksmith and, other than physical discomfort, she is untested in her role. It is refreshing to see that the men in the book (her father and the blacksmith) are both very encouraging of Catherine's unconventional career choice, but it would have strengthened the book to see at least one character questioning the appropriateness of Catherine's choice. To add another hurdle to Catherine's quest would have added some variety and drive to this very straightforward story. That said, the text in The Blacksmith's Apprentice offers up some useful and interesting information about the work of a blacksmith, including the names of tools and some of the things that blacksmiths make. The text also offers up a rhythm that carries throughout and warmly evokes the sounds of a smithy for young readers to enjoy. The illustrations, done by the author's son James Mathieu Chambers, are two-toned, in golds and browns. Illustrated in a variety of ways, including some full-page spreads, as well as inset boxes, the drawings add to the warmth and simplicity of the book by not being overly detailed or overly cartoonish. Like his father's text, J. M. Chambers has a rhythm to the illustrations, echoing previous pages in style and layout to represent a continuation in tradition and trade.

      Overall, The Blacksmith's Apprentice would be a great learning tool for an elementary school classroom discussion about gender roles, traditions, and careers.


Stacey Matson has worked in educational and interpretive programming in cultural/historic sites across Canada. She recently finished her MA in children's literature at the University of British Columbia.

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

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