CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 6. . . . November 15, 2002
Three men from the
church and Andrei's father, his tato, carry the trunk out of the house.
they edge through the doorway, the two men in the front, hands gripped
to the bottom of the trunk, struggling under the weight, stepping
backwards with their heads turned to see their way, Tato telling them
not to stumble. Neighbours gathered to watch. Old ladies in a sea
of white shawls, hands held as if in prayer, Oi, oi, oi, murmuring,
wiping tears. Boys and girls jostling to see up close, waving to the
waiting wagon. "Goodbye, Andrei, goodbye!" By himself, a
neighbour boy Petrus Shumka, leans against the side of the house.
He beckons to Andrei's sister, Marusia.
Andrei and the Snow Walker is a well intentioned and earnest 195 pages, but the passage above will provide the reader with some idea of the overwrought and relentless urge to teach that is the overwhelming force and perhaps the raison d'etre for this book. Ostensibly, this is the story of 12- year-old Andre Bayda who comes to a Canadian homestead near Batoche, SK, at the turn of the last century and experiences exciting adventures in his new life.
Larry Warwaruk has done extensive research to ensure that Andrei's story is an accurate portrayal of prairie life in Saskatchewan, and he's managed to include a complete set of all inclusive customs both for the Cree and Ukrainian characters. An unparalled description of how to butcher a moose is also provided, along with much description of the Prairies through all four seasons. No important tradition is left unrevealed.
In general, the plot line is very thin and revolves somewhat around a sacred bowl that Andrei's Dido has brought to the new country. However, there is so much description in the book that the narrative tends to get lost in all the things that the author wants us to know about Ukrainian and Cree culture. Ironically, a subplot regarding the potential but unwanted marriage of Andrei's sister, Marusia, fares better, but ends with one of the most incredible examples of deus ex machina to be found in children's literature. Indeed, the intended climax is difficult to swallow as well with Andrei and his grandfather both falling through ice - but on two separate occasions!
Characterization is also flat, and both the major and minor characters almost seem in caricature, from the old bachelor neighbor and his overbearing mother to the two Cree boys who actually speak Ukrainian! Warwaruk provides detailed descriptions of how the characters are clothed, and this provides most of the insight we receive into what they are about.
There is nothing really wrong with Andrei and the Snow Walker, and much of the content has the potential to be really interesting to children and to be an excellent vehicle for helping them to understand their heritage. However, this is not the book that is going to capture their imagination and interest. Think Dust by Arthur Slade as the penultimate Prairie history novel for the same age group.
Anne Letain is a teacher-librarian and school library consultant in Southern Alberta.
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