“Waters Like the Sky” is a quick-paced little piece of historical fiction that goes into amazing detail what life was like on the lakes and rivers of North America for the adventurous Frenchmen who sought to make their living in the fur trade.
It’s an interesting tale that the mother-daughter writing team of Nikki and the late Agnes Rajala has crafted. Aimed at an audience anywhere from middle school to early high school, it could be a good teaching tool for those trying to help young people grasp the history of the area in and around the Great Lakes on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.
With the consequences of the French Revolution as background, the story about a boy named Andre takes readers from French-speaking Canada onto the canoes of the voyaguers and into their lifestyle and traditions. What’s obvious is the painstaking research that went into the writing; the level of detail is tremendous.
How to paddle — “Do not dig! Never dig! Dip, pull and swing. And sing” — the trials of portaging, and the medicinal value of local plants are just a few of the bits of voyaguer life that are packed into the story.
The North Star Press book makes for a literary learning experience, and a religious one, too. Andre’s tasks as clerk of the voyaguer team offer a lesson, showing the value of education even in the wilderness. He prays, too, both prayers of petition and prayers of thanksgiving, and a Catholic priest plays a small but pivotal role in the drama.
For those working on the history of Minnesota, as the state requires for sixth graders, reading “Waters Like the Sky” will be a fun way to learn.