Tag Archives: Canada

Voyaguer life comes alive for young readers

October 3, 2014

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20458471“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.

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Father, son and values tested in superb WWI novel

June 8, 2014


cartographerThe moral life takes center stage in P.S. Duffy’s “The Cartographer of No Man’s Land,” a World War I novel that centers around a family and village in Nova Scotia and the impact of the first “war to end all wars.”

To go to war or not, to fight or to give up, to love or go through the motions, to admire or be repulsed by, to change or carry on — the story lines come at the reader like the torrent of artillery shells pounding at the trenches one chapter and like the waves of the North Atlantic sweeping fishermen overboard the next.

Caught in the middle are a father and son, and the novel jumps back and forth between their thoughts and dreams, their expectations and the experiences life throws their way.

Along the way Duffy sneaks in the dirty bit of history of bigotry that put ethnic-German Canadian citizens in detainment camps along with prisoners of war and “suspicious” aliens.

Those familiar with the writing of ancient Greece will appreciate references to the classics scattered throughout. Phrases from Scripture pop up, too, as wartime puts long-accepted values to the test both in France and back on the home front.

World War I garners a small percentage of battle literature in comparison to WWII, it seems to me, and the stories of Canadian soldiers even a smaller spot on the shelves compared to books about U.S. and British forces.

“The Cartographer of No Man’s Land” puts a dent into those imbalances with a handful of captivating parallel plots, meaty characters, splashes of intense action and superb writing.

This Liveright Publishing Corporation release last fall is a marvelous example of the writer’s craft, and it offers great possibilities for a sequel. Introduced to these intriguing people, readers will surely want to know what happens next in their lives, and Duffy has set the stage well with plenty of ambiguity.

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We all need to know this story of going from slavery to freedom

February 8, 2008


“I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land: The Lost Tale of The Underground Railroad”
by Karolyn Smardz Frost

What would it have been like to be a slave?

And what kind of courage did a slave have to have to risk escaping to freedom?

Archeologist and historian Karolyn Smardz Frost dug up some facts and artifacts about a Black couple named Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, and she puts together the scraps of her finds and tedious research to answer those questions and more in “I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land.”
This is a great read, one with dramatic turns that keep you turning pages.

And it’s an educational read as well.

If your American History classes brushed by the era of the Underground Railroad in a hurry to concentrated on the U.S. Civil War, “Glory Land” will fill in the missing gap.
It’s a part of history every North American should know.

And I say North America because, for the people Frost traces back to their one-time slave state of Kentucky, “Glory Land” is Canada.

More we were never taught
That was news to me. I thought the end of the Underground Railroad was just somewhere north of the Mason-Dixon Line. In fact, a line of the series of safe houses and sanctuaries for fugitive slaves ran up into Detroit and across the Detroit River to what was then Upper Canada, now Ontario.

How laws in the United States worked against slaves who tried to escape their bondage was news to me, too.

Of course in school we learned about the Dred Scott Decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that protected the rights of slave owners. But legalisms that cooperated with the slave faction abounded. When the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 opened up the Midwest for settlement, its article six provided that runaway slaves be returned to their owners.

As early as 1793 there was even a federal law, the Fugitive Slave Law, that required slaves to be returned to their masters.

Canada deserves some props
The Canadians don’t come off pure as the driven snow with regard to racial bias, but their protection of the right of freedom for any British subject saved the day for the Thornton and Lucie Blackburn and thousands of other former slaves who fled the cruelty and inhumanity of the slave system.

Theirs is a story all should know.

And the refresher course on what slave owners did – how they treated other human beings – is a lesson Americans should never forget. – bz

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