________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 24. . . .February 22, 2013


Nikik and Wapus Save the People.

Joe McLellan. Illustrated by Jackie Traverse.
Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican Publications, 2012.
40 pp., stapled, $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-894717-70-0.

Subject Headings:
Otters-Juvenile fiction.
Rabbits-Juvenile fiction.
Mice-Juvenile fiction.
Weasels-Juvenile fiction.
Ojibwa Indians-Juvenile fiction.

Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.

Review by Meredith Cleversey.

*** /4



Poor Wapus. Poor Nikik. They did not wish to suffer, but they could never do as the thieves wished, for the Anishinabe were their friends. Wapus opened his mouth to defy the villains, and then his mouth snapped shut.

He had heard a strange sound, the sound of a flute piping far away, and he knew what it was. It was the magic flute of Nanabosho, sending him a message. And then Wapus remembered something Nanabosho had said to him once long ago, half in fun, half in earnest: Wapus, the best way to catch a snake is to think like a snake!

At once Wapus understood. He set himself to think like the mice and the weasels, feeling their greed and selfishness. Then he had a plan.


Joe McLellan is known for his stories about the legendary trickster Nanabosho. But now, after 11 tales, McLellan has written a new story from the perspective of two of Nanabosho’s friends, Nikik the Otter and Wapus the Rabbit. Nikik and Wapus are always playing pranks on one another, but when they discover that a group of mice and weasels are stealing food from the Anishinabe people, these prankster friends work together to stop the thieves before it’s too late.

     Nikik and Wapus Save the People is a fun story with a simple message about doing what is right. Told by McLellan in a way that highlights the story’s Aboriginal origins with its Anishinabe characters and natural landscapes, Nikik and Wapus Save the People presents readers with a trickster tale that has a positive moral ending. Nikik and Wapus are mischievous and clever, but they are also kindhearted and wise. While they enjoy playing pranks and having fun with one another, they understand the difference between right and wrong, and they stop the villainous mice and weasels in a smart and witty way.

     This tale is text-heavy, and while both the story’s length and language might be a little mature for some younger audiences, Nikik and Wapus Save the People provides a great opportunity for parents and educators to share a traditional story with today’s children. Throughout the tale, there are several references to the Anishinabe people which make this story a wonderful supplement or introduction to First Nations literature. However, the message of the story is also universal, and the moral conclusion is one that all readers can understand.

     The illustrations, done by Anishinabe artist Jackie Traverse, are colourful and draw the reader into the landscape of the tale. The details of some images are full of playful wit, such internal artas when Nikik follows Wapus’s tracks only to find an old woman (Wapus in disguise) sitting by a fire. The illustration shows a woman with big rabbit teeth and long rabbit ears that can easily be mistaken for hair. Nikik and Wapus Save the People is the second collaboration between Joe McLellan and Jackie Traverse, and the text and images of this tale fit well together.

     Nikik and Wapus Save the People is a traditional tale presented to a modern audience. It is an entertaining story of friendship, trickery, and the difference between right and wrong. The story serves both as an enjoyable glimpse into First Nations lore as well as a more widespread cautionary tale about being kindhearted and without greed.


Meredith Cleversey is a librarian in Cambridge, ON. She loves to read, write, and live in a world of pure imagination.

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

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