CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 8 . . . . December 10, 1999
In Cheticamp the ladies hook rugs. They are beautiful things of soft wool with delicate flowers and vines twining upon them, pink and green and soft yellow as pale as winter butter. They learn the hooking when they are very small, the ladies of Cheticamp. There is a right way to hook and a wrong way, and it can take a lifetime to learn the difference. But if you do it well, then a little piece of your heart is tucked in there with the wool. That is what they say in Cheticamp.Claire's Gift is a beautiful collaboration between Maxine Trottier, the author of many children's stories including the critically acclaimed Prairie Willow, and internationally acclaimed artist Rajka Kupesic. The story is, like Prairie Willow, a regional tale, this time set in the Acadian village of Cheticamp, Nova Scotia, on an island off the mainland.
Tante Marie, called aunt by everyone in the village, relative or not, is one of the ladies who hooks rugs. She lives alone, her family having "passed on or left the island." She spends her day hooking, sending rugs as gifts to nieces and nephews far away when a baby is born, and, in return, they would send back pictures. The last child had been Claire whose photo sits on Tante Marie's mantel.
One day, Tante Marie gets a letter saying that, as Claire's father is off at war, her mother must go to work in a fish packing plant and is sending Claire to live with Tante Marie for the summer. There was great excitement as the village prepared to welcome seven-year-old Claire.
No one is quite prepared for the sad withdrawn girl with the big eyes who gets off the boat. Even the children of Cheticamp cannot entice her to play. For the first time, Tante Marie is too preoccupied with Claire to hook rugs. At last, when, Tante Marie does pick up her hook again, Claire is intrigued and asks to be taught to hook. Tante Marie teaches her the rhyme she learned as a child: "With the hook catch the wool. Give it just a little pull. Give the wool a little tug with the hook to make the rug."
When it comes time for Claire to leave, she promises not to forget, and, in time, Tante Marie receives a package containing Claire's rug. "Papa says you send rugs to everyone, so here is a rug for you."
The warm theme of intergenerational friendship is perfectly complemented by the warmth of Kupesic's illustrations which are done in oil on linen. Her paintings are a simple, almost stylized, representation in a muted palette that invites the reader into the world of Cheticamp. Kupesic's illustrations manage to seem static yet brimming full of detail at the same time, as though she is caught the islanders in a series of tableaux. Perhaps Kupesic has also left a piece of her heart tucked in there.
Liz Greenaway is a former bookseller living in Edmonton, AB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association.
Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice
is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.