________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 6 . . . . November 12, 1999

cover Boy of the Deeps.

Ian Wallace.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 1999.
29 pp., cloth, $16.95.
ISBN 0-88899-356-0.

Subject Headings:
Coal mines and mining-Nova Scotia-Cape Breton Island-Juvenile fiction.
Fathers and sons-Juvenile fiction.
Cape Breton Island (N.S.)-History-20th century-Juvenile fiction.

Kindergarten - grade 3 / Ages 5 - 8.
Review by Helen Norrie.

** /4

IMAGE Toronto author and artist Ian Wallace has dedicated this book to his grandfather who was a miner in Gloucestershire, England. However, Wallace has chosen to set this picture book in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the oldest and one of the richest coal mining areas in North America. The story deals with a young boy, James, and his first day "in the deeps," that is, mining coal in an underground tunnel. The time is some point in the nineteenth century: pit ponies are used to haul away the coal, and young boys are routinely sent into "the deeps" as soon as they are strong enough to wield a pick.
     While Boy of the Deeps provides an informative glimpse into the life and times of a coal-mining family in the past century, the text occasionally sounds too much like a documentary on mining:

"...his father showed him how to bore a hole deep in the wall with an auger. He explained how to pack the hole tight with gunpowder ... He showed him how to set the fuses."
At the climactic moment in the story, when there is a cave-in in the tunnel in which they are working, James and his father appear to be dug out with little trouble and not much concern. While cave-ins were undoubtedly a common hazard, there should have been more dramatic tension in the narrative at this point.
     The illustrations, also by Ian Wallace, are in the style of Edward Hopper, an artist who specialized in realistic images. Done mainly in tones of navy blue and brown, their dark hues capture the underground feel of the mine. The faces of James and his father, however, seem wooden and lacking in emotion; possibly a deliberate attempt on the part of the artist to emphasize the demands placed on young boys in such situations in that era.
     Aimed at 5-8 year olds, this book may become a valuable historical resource for Canadian history in early school years, but it is unlikely to have wide appeal simply as a picture book.


Helen Norrie is the children's book columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press and an instructor in children's literature at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.

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

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