. . . . Volume VIII Number 2 . . . . September 21, 2001
Snow had pile up again against the tent flap. I pushed it away and crawled outside, into a roaring new world. There was snow everywhere. It blanketed the frozen ground and piled high against the shaking, billowing tents. Drifts buried bushes in macabre shapes. Snow splattered against the sides of trees, turning them into ghosts of gray. Hurtling snow filled the air, filled every stinging inhalation. I winced from the pain of it, wheeled away to suck in a freezing breath. And then I heard it.As delightful as it is to read historical fiction based on young heroes from our distant past, it is unfortunate that the packaging of this title screams out: school material. Rick Book's two short stories have been collected as volume one of Young Heroes of North America series. The cover content and format resemble an encyclopedia. Inside, the text does not fare much better as it is "enhanced" with sidebar glossaries, captioned photographs, both black and white and coloured illustrations and sporadic graphic sound effects in large italics in and around the text. The majority of these enrichments distract the reader from the tales.
The second story, Thanadelthur, is much stronger, perhaps because of a larger amount of primary resource material, or the voice "telling" the tale. Book has William Stuart, a Hudson Bay Company man, actively tell the story, and this works much better. Once Stuart introduces himself, the company, and James Knight, he begins his tale of the heroic Dene, Thanadelthur. Her place in history as peacemaker between the Dene and the Cree people has been acknowledged in Canadian literature before. She is the heroine of James Houston's novel, Running West, and one of the subjects of the 1995 Hudson Bay comic book, Tales from the Bay, as well as one of the explorers in the video, The Pathfinders. In this rendition, which is also captured orally in a CD read well by Nicola St. John and included in the package, Thanadelthur's courage and personality shine through. She, Stuart, and a group of Cree travel north to her homeland only to find starvation and the numbing cold thwarting their mission. It is her knowledge of survival measures, the land, and the nature of people that turns the potential disaster into a success. Book's ending of his story is well handled and is very much in keeping with the oral tradition which formulated so much of the background of Thanadelthur's remarkable achievements.
Both stories are well researched, and the volume includes a bibliography for further reading. As mentioned previously, the packaging may restrict the spontaneous reading of the tales by the intended readers, but teachers I showed it to were delighted by its existence and potential usefulness in the classroom.
Gail de Vos teaches Canadian children's literature and storytelling at the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta. She is a resident storyteller at Fort Edmonton Park, bringing history alive through stories, and the author of five books on storytelling and folklore.
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