Tag Archives: Canadian

Tales From Big Spirit (Series) by David Alexander Robertson

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I have been a fan of David Alexander Robertson since I read his 7 Generations graphic novel series a few years ago. Recently I stumbled upon his graphic novel series for a younger audience called “Tales from Big Spirit”. Each book is about a prominent First Nations person from history and teaches the reader about their contributions using beautifully drawn graphics (there are a few different illustrators for the series). Although intended for children, I as an adult really enjoyed reading the books and learned a few new things.

The first title I read was “The Peacemaker- Thanadelathur” (illustrated by Wai Tien). This book teaches the reader about Thanadelathur, a remarkable Dene woman who helped make peace between the Cree and Dene peoples in the 1700s. She was originally captured by some Cree people, and managed to escape after the winter had passed. Nearly starving in the process, she was discovered by some geese hunters from the Hudson’s Bay Company and she agreed to become an interpreter for the Hudson’s Bay Company to establish trade agreements. After some difficulty, she proved the be successful, and Thanadelathur is still remembered today through oral tradition and the Hudson Bay Company’s records (quite a rarity for a First Nations woman at that time!)

Second was “The Poet-Pauline Johnson” (illustrated by Scott B. Henderson). This book introduces Pauline Johnson, a Mohawk poet who was quite famous for her poetry reciting, especially “A Cry from an Indian Wife” which told of the Battle of Cut Knife during the Riel Rebellion. Being half European and half Mohawk, she worked towards reconciliation towards those groups of people, and her works have been honored by different groups yesterday and today.

Third was “The Ballad of Nancy April- Shawnadithit” (illustrated by Scott B. Henderson) which tells about the extinction of the Beothuk people in Newfoundland in the 19th century. They became instinct due to various reasons, including loss of food sources due to competition with other groups in the area, death due to European diseases (especially tuberculosis), and violent encounters from other groups. Shawnadithit was the last known full-blooded Beothuk person until her death in 1829, and because of her, some history of the Beothuk people survive today.

Last was “The Scout-Tommy Prince” (illustrated by Scott B. Henderson). This installment teaches about Sgt. Tommy Prince, the most decorated First Nations Soldier in Canada, who served in both World War II and the Korean War. As a young man, he spent a lot of time outdoors hunting and doing other skills, and he joined the army cadets when he was a teenager. Despite facing discrimination, he applied for recruitment several times until he was accepted in 1940. He volunteered to the parachute unit, being one of few who passed training. Later on he did many dangerous tasks; including scoping out and reporting on German assembly points (he laid a 1,400 meter long telephone wire and attached it to a phone in an abandoned farmhouse to do so!). After the wars, he became known once again for saving a man from drowning in Winnipeg. Since his passing, many schools and awards have been named after Prince to honor him.

In total, this has been a wonderful group of graphic novels that taught me a bit of Canadian History. Pauline Johnson’s writings are officially on my to-read list, and I have done further readings on the other individuals.  I truly recommend this collection for those young and old. These titles are available by Interlibrary Loan.

 

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The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson

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There were many, many things I really liked about The Chaos. I loved how real Scotch’s voice was and her interactions with her brother and family rang very true for me. It may be a cliche for the teen girl to change into more conservative, parent-approved clothes before heading home, but it helps establish Scotch’s character and family dynamics. The Chaos is certainly an original end-of-the-world scenario in a sea of other YA apocalypses. The distorting, manipulating, oozing rolling calf was a great addition to the story, especially in opposition to the rule-dominated Russian folktale witch character (who shared many characteristics with traditional Western fairy tale witches, like the one in Hansel and Gretel). Some reviewers have complained about the inclusion of the rolling calf as they are unfamiliar with it. I think anyone familiar with fairy tales can figure out what sort of mythological being it is. And if it inspires some young person to look up rolling calf and duppies and Caribbean mythology to learn more then so much the better.

I feel a little ridiculous making the following criticism of a novel called “The Chaos”, but nonetheless: the book is a little too chaotic. I really liked the opening parts, especially the characterization of Scotch and the way she thinks about boys. I can’t remember ever reading a teen girl POV that struck me as so absolutely authentic, especially in terms of responding to the male gaze. Once the Chaos hits and things start happening – the volcano, various transformations – those authentic reactions seemed to disappear. Everyone, not just the main characters, responded extremely calmly to the situation considering what was happening. It made the stakes seem quite low. People were worrying about last family, but no one was losing their minds over the fact that the the world was absolutely mad. At one point someone suggests that the Chaos is manifesting people’s inner inner lives, but this has little resonance in terms of the story as any connections, if they exist, are very hard to decipher. Scotch’s journey is very haphazard, and

SPOILERS START HERE! SKIP IF YOU PLAN TO READ THE BOOK!

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the resolution was equal parts confusing and annoying. It’s unclear whether Scotch’s triumph meant the end of the Chaos or if they are unrelated events. On the one hand, Scotch was privy to early signs of the Chaos, so maybe she has a significant role in its outcome? But on the other, so did other school children who seem to have nothing else to do with the story. Also, we end up back in school where we began without any discussion of the repercussions of the Chaos or even an idea of what the time frame was between its end and our new present day. The lack of significant lasting impact (other than her brother reconciling with her parents, Scotch’s personal growth and her new skin colour) made the whole novel seem insubstantial. Those are significant impacts, especially Scotch’s personal growth and the meaning of her changed skin colour, but I feel like it is a bit of a poor return for the entire world gone completely insane. Scotch even keeps thinking about a dance contest throughout her ordeal, and mentions at the end that it had to be cancelled because too many participants were “missing, injured or dead.” It just all seems a bit trivial.

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REVIEW CONTINUES…..

I love Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber for its mix of Caribbean mythology, amazing characterization, and science fiction and hoped that The Chaos would be similarly engrossing. For me, it wasn’t; but I would certainly recommend it to teens who are bored of the zombie apocalypse, interested in strong, active female characters, looking for representations of their culture and experiences, and like creative imaginary worlds.

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

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Half Brother

This YA novel may seem like a simplistic ‘issue’ story, but is in fact a layered narrative about the morals of anthropomorphizing animals and what it means to be family.

Thirteen-year-old Ben Tomlin is not excited about his new “baby brother” Zan, a chimpanzee inserted into his family purely for scientific purposes. His scientist parents are hoping to teach Zan sign language and cross-foster him as a human child to see what results. At first, Ben is resentful – the family was uprooted across the country to a new academic institution for his father to receive the necessary grant money – but he quickly bonds with Zan, forming a closer relationship than the one he has with his demanding and critical father.  The novel accurately details the process of the scientific experiment and its gains and setbacks. Other characters are introduced as secondary caregivers for Zan, and different perspectives on the morality of teaching Zan to communicate and learn human behaviours are slowly raised.

The emotions are believable, especially Ben’s frustrations with his family and his passion for ensuring Zan’s future happiness. Despite the teenaged protagonist, this novel will raise interesting questions for adult readers with an interest in animal rights, nature versus nurture, or the ethics of scientific research. The plot is not particularly surprising, but the well-drawn characters make the journey worthwhile. Half Brother does not read as a novel with an agenda; instead, it offers multiple perspectives on very emotionally fraught issues and will give all reflective readers something to ponder.