CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 15 . . . . March 29, 2002
This first book in the "Adventure.Net" series introduces Rick and Willow Forster who are attending summer camp in Ontario. During a walk in the woods, the siblings discover an old railway line that leads to an abandoned boxcar. Inside are bunk beds, a stove and shelves, as well as palettes, such as artists would use. Willow, having just taken an art class, wonders if it could be the boxcar used by the Group of Seven as their base in the early 1900's.
A rough oil sketch in the boxcar suggests that they may be correct in their assumption. Rick thinks the sketch is worthless, but Willow has a hunch that it might be valuable. They decide to take it to a local artist who specializes in the Group of Seven for confirmation. But can the artist be trusted, or does he have his own scheme in mind?
The informational sidebars throughout the novel tell the reader that the boxcar was based in fact. The Group of Seven used Boxcar A.C.R. 10557 as their base in the wilderness, adding personal touches such as Christmas trees. In one member's words, it was their "street number on the long way of the wilderness."
It's interesting facts like this that make this novel stand out. Authors Andrea and David Spalding marry fact and fiction to create an absorbing novel that has a wealth of information. Today, it's hard to imagine the Group of Seven not being noticed, much less being ridiculed, for painting in styles not of the norm. The Group of Seven's work was so disliked that it prompted one critic to compare one of J.E.H. Macdonald's paintings to "hungarian ghoulash." Their work sold modestly in their lifetimes. By providing a historical context, the Spaldings do an excellent job of breathing life into names that might otherwise remain rather flat.
The other innovative aspect of the series is its inclusion of web sites pertaining to the material. The sites cover everything from those devoted to the artists themselves (www.mcmichael.com); those where the artist's progression from sketch to finished painting can be seen (www.utoronto.ca/gallery/lismer); one that allows kids to test their skills in detecting forgeries (www.triangle-st.com/forgery/) and one that allows kids to create their own art (www.kidzdraw.com).
While the writing is strong, the characters of Rick and Willow stay rather static, and the dialogue can be wooden, especially when Willow is quoting art criticism. Hopefully, the subsequent novels -- the next is to take place on Kootenay Lake in B.C.-- will allow for more character development. The Forsters are an interesting clan: they live in a converted bus that allows the film-making parents to bring Rick and Willow around the country with them. The potential for quirky characters is hinted at, but not explored fully.
Not as plot-driven as a traditional mystery, this book may never inspire kids to stay up late with a flashlight under the covers. However, it would be invaluable in the classroom as a tool to teach both Canadian history and art appreciation. The Lost Sketch is an impressive start to what could be a fascinating series.
Greenaway has worked in bookselling and publishing and now is at home
with her small children in Edmonton, AB.
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