CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 5 . . . . October 29, 1999
I have travel many mile in my canoe. I should have no trouble with it. The Indian know me. He is my frien. I should have no trouble with him. I have food and drink. I am not expect to have trouble unless the weather is like it was las year when I lose my friend Clement.Only 28, Etienne Mercier, a fictional creation of Bouchard, has been a voyageur, a trapper, and a coureur de bois. Now, in 1853, his employer of the last six years, the Hudson's Bay Company, has engaged him to travel up the Queen Charlotte Islands to make a record of the lifestyle of the Haida. A self-taught artist, Mercier (i.e. Gordon Miller) also provides both pen and ink and full-colour illustrations to go with each of his 13 brief journal entries which cover the period from March 21- June 10, 1853. Mercier's writings capture various aspects of Haida life, including a Winter dance ceremony and a potlatch. Not all of Mercier's entries are of the "anthropological" variety. In one case, reader tension rises when Mercier has to delay his journal because he has sighted a Haida raiding party. Appreciative of nature, Mercier exults in sharing the ocean with a pod of killer whales and in seeing "the eagle everywhere on the Queen Charlotte." Two maps on the title and facing page help readers follow Mercier's journey while the use of an antique brown coloured paper contributes to the journal's verisimilitude.
A secondary purpose for Mercier's trip is his search for his missing friend, Clement, and Mercier keeps this "subplot" before his readers via passing references to Clement in various of the journal entries. Readers are in for a surprise at the book's ending, but a second reading will reveal that Mercier/Bouchard provided appropriate clues throughout.
An extra feature of the book, which utilizes a picturebook format, is the inclusion of a 25 minute CD in which Bouchard, complete with a French Canadian accent, dramatically narrates the diary entries and also sings the paddling songs which are also included in the diary. For younger children who may have difficulty reading Mercier's occasional use of Franglais, listening to the CD, while following along in the text and looking at the illustrations, will be of assistance to their understanding. Sound effects also remind listeners of the story's locale. Oddly, Bouchard, in his reading, does not include the entries' dates which are part of the text.
A useful addition to all school Canadian history courses as another way of bringing to life a past period for today's students.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and young adult literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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