Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Shame The Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Shame the Stars is the story of two families set in Texas in 1915 during the Mexican revolution. The prologue sets the context for the story with the events that occurred at Easter, 1913 between the two families.

Don Avecedo and Dona Jovita del Toro and their sixteen-year-old son Joaquin are hosting their good friends, Don Rodrigo and Dona Serafina Villa and their sixteen-year-old daughter, Dulcena at Las Moras. Las Moras is a 600 acre ranch that has been in the del Toro family since 1775, before Tejas became Texas. Joaquin and Dulcena's childhood friendship is blossoming into love which they hide from their parents.

Meanwhile on the back porch, Don Acevedo reads a poem, Tejano that was published in Don Rodrigo's newspaper, El Sureno. The poem challenges the tejanos for ignoring what's happening around them, how the Anglo immigrants are taking their land- their heritage, their birthright. Don Acevedo is critical of Don Rodrigo's decision to publish the poem, concerned that he might cause trouble between the people of Morado County and the Texan Rangers.  However, Dona Jovita feels that most people in the town of Monteseco know how the tejanos (Mexican-Americans) are being treated. And Don Rodrigo believes that as a journalist he must speak out against the prejudices towards the tejanos. But Don Acevedo is so outraged he tells Don Rodrigo that if their friendship is to continue he wants never to see one of his newspapers in his home again. The two part on bad terms, with Don Rodrigo hopeful that one day his friend Don Acevedo will understand.

The novel then fast-foward ahead two years to 1915. Joaquin will be heading off to Michigan Agricultural College in the fall, as his parents attempt to break his attachment to Dulcena Villa while Dulcena has been pulled out of school and is being tutored privately by Madame Josette from Paris. Don Rodrigo was forced to pull her from school because of constant threats and acts of vandalism to his print shop. Joaquin feels he cannot leave his home at this dangerous time when Texas Mexicans who have been here long before it became part of the United States, are fighting to keep their homes. These tejano rebels have been attacking the ranches of the Anglo immigrants and in retaliation the Texas Rangers have been "accosting and killing innocent tejanos".

In the morning, before Don Acevedo and Joaquin are finished their desayuno, ranch hand Manuel arrives to tell them that Captain Elliot Munro has come to talk to one of the ranch workers, nineteen-year-old Gerardo Gutierrez. Munro believes Gerardo was part of a group of tejano rebels who met up with a group of Mexican revolutionaries who crossed into Texas to burn the sugar mill. Don Acevedo is skeptical of Gerardo's involvement but Munro states he was overheard talking about the mill and also La Estrella, the local heroine of the rebels. Munro arrests Gerardo, leading him away on his horse, handcuffed.

That night Joaquin attends Lupita's quinceanera at the dance hall in the town square. It is a themed party with a masque ball, perfect for Joaquin and Dulcena to be together without their identities being discovered. After telling his parents about the party, Joaquin rides into Monteseco with Mateo and Fito. At the party Joaquin is able to dance with Dulcena only once as her parents are in attendance. Dulcena insists that Joaquin meet her at their secret spot near the Arroyo Morado at midnight. Little do they know this clandestine meeting will create much trouble for their families.

Dulcena reveals to Joaquin that she has learned that several of his father's workers are conspiring with the rebels, something Joaquin does not believe. When he reassures Dulcena that they have the protection of Munro, Dulcena tells Joaquin that Munro has no friends. Their rendezvous is interrupted by a group of rebels led by Carlos who lets them go when he discovers Joaquin's identity. However on their way home they encounter more trouble when two Morado County sheriff's deputies accost them and one, Slate attacks Dulcena with the intention of raping and murdering her. Although Joaquin and Dulcena fight back, it is Tomas and their friends Mateo and Fito who arrive in time. Tomas lets Slater and Davis go telling Joaquin they have no authority over them and that they will have to talk to Munro and hope he acts. At Las Moras later that night, the parents of Joaquin and Dulcena along with Tomas and Captain Munro meet in the del Toro's sala (living room). Munro refuses to punish Slater and Davis, telling the del Toro and Villa families that it will ruin Dulcena's reputation. This only serves to enrage both families. Munro wants Sheriff Nolan to deal with Slater and Davis which means that nothing will be done. Tomas believes not punishing them will only further embolden them. The meeting ends unresolved with both sides angry.

On Saturday morning when Joaquin and his father attempt to bail out Gerardo Gutierrez, they learn there is no bail and no visitors allowed. While his father goes to speak with Munro, Joaquin gets into a fight with Slater when he hears him disparaging Dulcena's good name. That night Joaquin discovers the secrets his parents have been keeping and their involvement with the rebels. As tensions in the town continue to rise, the del Toro and Villa families both suffer reprisals that endanger their lives, threaten to tear Dulcena and Joaquin apart and ultimately lead to a deadly confrontation with Munro and his deputies.


This is another exceptional novel by Latina author, Guadalupe Garcia McCall. Shame the Stars has all the hallmarks of a great story: realistic, appealing characters, a unique setting, a blossoming forbidden romance and lots of action that leads to a thrilling climax.The events in the novel take place over the span of a month from August 20, 1915 to September 18, 1915, in the fictional town of Monteseco, Texas near the Mexican border during the Mexican revolution. Garcia McCall was inspired to write the novel after her son told her one night about a book written by Benjamin H. Johnson, Revolution in Texas: How a Forgotten Rebellion and Its Bloody Suppression Turned Mexicans into Americans. The book told the story of "tejanos (Mexican Americans) and Mexicans in Southern Texas in 1915 at the time of the Mexican Revolution." Garcia McCall was deeply moved about the murders of Mexican Americans during the rebellion of 1915 and awoke later that night with the story of Joaquin del Toro who lived at Rancho Las Moras forming in her mind. What began as a potential free verse project blossomed into a novel. Her research into this period and the writing of the novel took five years.

To understand the period the novel is set in, it is instructive to go back to the middle of the 1800's. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 ended the Mexican-American War and made land in Upper California, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Colorado, Nevada and Utah. The Rio Grande became the boundary between Mexico and American territory in Texas. The area was Mexican culturally and it was populated predominantly by Mexicans who simply stayed in the area when it became part of America. There were some Anglo settlers who were also part of the cultural mix at this time, intermarrying and learning to speak Spanish. However at the turn of the 20th century, Anglo settlers considered the land near the Rio Grande as ideal for farming and ranching and they began moving into the area. Many Tejanos had been on their land for several generations but could not produce the paperwork to prove that they owned the land. This led to court challenges by the Anglo settlers who usually won and the Tejanos were displaced from their ancestral homes. Between 1900 and 1914, hundreds of thousands of acres of land was taken from Tejanos and given to Anglos in just two counties.

During this time political instability in Mexico fueled the problems in Texas. In 1910 the Mexican revolution began. The Rio Grande Valley was still predominantly populated by Mexican and Mexican-Americans, many of whom had family living in Mexico. At this time it was relatively easy to move between the two countries and as a result, Southern Texas saw many political refugees from Mexico arriving, bringing with them the political ideals of their homeland. But some were very radical and saw this time as ripe for returning parts of Texas and the southern United States back to Mexico. Plan de San Diego was crafted by radicals in Monterrey, Neuvo Leon and advocated a race war by Mexicans and blacks against the Anglo settlers with the aim of returning Texas land to Mexico. Raids occurred against some Anglo farmers and against railroad and telegraph lines. This and the publication of the Plan de San Diego in local newspapers made Anglo Texans anxious.  In response, the U. S. government sent in large numbers of Texas Rangers who enforced laws in favour of Anglo settlers and carried out many unlawful killings of Tejanos and Mexicans. Often the families were warned not to come collect the bodies of the dead meaning they were not given a proper burial and cause both suffering and further intimidation of surviving family.

The extensive research author Garcia McCall undertook is evident as her novel incorporates many of the injustices such as the forcing of tejanos off their land and extralegal killings - that is killings by law authorities without due process and outside of the law - into the story. For example, Joaquin's tio Carlos tells him how he lost his home. "I came home one night and found my wife crying because she didn't have the papers to prove we owned the land our house was built on in Hondo. They had been lost in a fire, years before, and her family had never replaced them. Without those documents, my wife and I had no way of proving the land was ours. No one would help us. Lawyers refused to take our case. County officials wanted United States paperwork, when the only paperwork we had before the fire was from Mexico, a hundred years ago when our ancestors were granted the land. And then the Rangers made sure my wife and I moved out...They hung my sixteen-year-old son in our backyard."

The novel is written from the point of view of a tejano, eighteen-year-old Joaquin de Toro whose father is "light-haired and fair-skinned like an Anglo" and whose mother is Mexican. To make the story more interesting, Garcia McCall incorporates some elements from the Romeo and Juliet story; a young couple in love whose family have a falling out resulting in them being forced apart, they secretly exchange letters through the hired help (some of which Garcia McCall includes in the novel), Joaquin climbs the jacaranda tree to her bedroom balcony and is passionately in love with her, and they attend a masque ball in order to meet up. All of this happens in the midst of intense conflict in their world. While Joaquin is passionate and somewhat hot-headed, he is growing into a man who acts on his beliefs. Dulcena, although sometimes appearing too modern for the period of the story, is shown to be an intelligent young woman who wants to be a reporter and travel the world. Shame the Stars is populated by realistic Mexican-American characters who are portrayed as intelligent and willing to fight the injustices being done to them.

The story follows the increasing conflict that affects both the del Toro and the Villa families both of whom are revealed to be heavily involved in supporting the cause of the tejano rebels. Eventually this leads to the climax of the story involving the confrontation between the del Toro's and Captain Munro that leads to a catastrophic loss for the del Toro family, but also results in a partial resolution of the situation in Morado County. Garcia-McCall includes a very helpful Cast of Characters at the front of the novel to help readers familiarize themselves quickly with the main characters and the many supporting characters in the novel.

Garcia McCall's novel was most timely considering the anti-Hispanic rhetoric of the American presidential campaign in 2016 when it was published.Shame the Starsinvites young readers to learn about a part of their country's history that is rarely taught and to understand the backstory to the prejudice that continues today in parts of the southern United States. To that end, she has included a detailed Author's Note at the back as well as a short booklist for teachers and mentors, and credits for the mostly nonfictional newspaper clippings that can be found throughout the novel.

The sequel to Shame the Stars is set in Monteseco sixteen years later and follows the repatriation of the del Toros back to Mexico. This is a novel I look forward to reading - I just hope I don't have to wait much longer!

Book Details:

Shame The Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
New York: Tu Books, an imprint of Lee and Low Books, Inc.    2016
288 pp.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine by Heather Lang

"I believe Ruth has performed a useful mission in the world. She has proved a woman can do things and I believe she has benefited aviation by shaming some of the men who lacked the nerve to help develop the airplane."    Ruth Law's father

Ruth Law is remembered as an extraordinary woman aviation pioneer who made the first flight from Chicago to New York. Ruth had already made many contributions to aviation, including breaking the altitude record for women and also for performing acrobatic stunts.

Born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1887, Ruth and her brother Rodman were active and daring children, always playing "hazardous pranks" according to their father. Rodman Law grew up to become a daredevil and movie stuntman while Ruth decided she would like to fly. However, when she approached Orville Wright, he refused to give her flying lessons, believing that flying was not something a young woman could master. Of course, Ruth proved him wrong. Wright did sell Ruth a plane though and she was able to find another instructor, learning to fly in a mere three weeks and obtaining her license in 1912. Ruth, being mechanically-minded was capable of maintaining her own plane. She could tell by the sound of the motor whether something was wrong. After earning her pilot's license, Ruth did air shows, doing stunts like the "loop the loop" but she is best known for her flight from Chicago to New York City in one day in 1916.

The early 1900's were a time of great social change and women were leading the way, fighting for the right to participate more fully in society and to have the right to vote. In 1916 Ruth Law decided she wanted to prove that women were serious aviators and she wanted to set the American record for the longest nonstop flight. Victor Carlstrom had just set a new record of 452 miles. Ruth knew she could fly farther - she planned to fly from Chicago to New York, something that had not yet been attempted by any man.

People were skeptical but this did not deter Ruth nor did the fact that the manufacturer of the larger plane she needed, refused to sell to her. This was because Glenn Hammond Curtiss was busy making planes for use in World War I and also because he felt as a woman, Ruth Law was not capable of flying the larger plane. In fact the plane Ruth used was a small Curtiss biplane with the propeller in the back and the cockpit completely exposed to the elements. As with other women trailblazers, Ruth would have to overcome many serious obstacles to accomplish her remarkable feat.

Heather Lang's picture, Fearless Flyer book tells young readers how Ruth accomplished her amazing feat. Lang describes Ruth's determination and her resourcefulness in attacking the many obstacles that she needed to overcome if she was to be successful. Many of Ruth's own words are incorporated into the story, providing valuable insight into Ruth's personality. Flying could be a scary experience, but Ruth Law loved the challenge and the thrill. She would not be thwarted by those who insisted a woman could not undertake such a challenge.

Accompanying Lang's recounting of Ruth's historic flight are Raul Colon's exquisite illustrations rendered in Prismacolor pencils. The drawings, softly textured and impressionistic at times capture many moments of Ruth's flight over the countryside and accurately portray the machine she flew.

Included at the back of the book is a two-page section titled More About Ruth Law as well as a Bibliography and a list of Source Notes which indicate that Heather Lang did extensive research for this picture book. Fearless Flyer is a great read-aloud book for the classroom or at home and a great way to inspire young girls to  persevere and reach for the sky.

Book Details:

Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine by Heather Lang
Honesdale, Pennsylvania: Calkins Creek   2016

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Algonquin Spring by Rick Revelle

In Algonquin Spring, Revelle picks up the story six years after the Haudenosaunee raid that saw Mahingan's wife Wabananang captured and most of his warriors massacred. Revelle tells his story alternating between various narrators.

Tall Man

The story opens in what is present day Newfoundland. Tall Man, and his three companions are Beothuk who are hunting when they encounter men unlike any they've ever seen before. The have red hair and beards and wear bright coloured clothing. Both groups of hunters encounter the same caribou but Tall Man's group is attacked and he and his companion Whale Bone are captured. Tall Man finds he can understand their captors Oysten and Visate. They are put into a large boat with many more red-haired men and forced to row, heading south, far away from the Beothuk's land.

Eight days later, they arrive at the mouth of the present day Vaureal River on Anticosti Island where the group spends  days fishing. Tall Man knows they are stocking up for their voyage home, and he tells Whale Bone they must try to escape before the strangers finish this task or they will likely be killed. The strangers want to add a bjorn (bear) to their stores and so they take Tall Man and Whale Bone with them into the forest. Opir discovers six warriors busy gutting a bear and the strangers decide to kill them and take the bear. However, all of the strangers are killed because Tall Man and Whale Bone decide to help the native warriors. Whale Bone is killed but Tall Man is taken in by the two native warriors, Matues (Porcupine) and E's (Clam) who survived the attack and whom he learns are Mi'kmaq. With them is a small man, Apistanewj whom Tall Man had saved. Their home is in Gespe'g on the coast. Matues and E's tell Tall Man that they were on the island as part of their initiation into manhood and that they have others waiting for them at a camp nearby. At this camp, Matues and E's explain to Jilte'g what happened in the forest and introduce Ta's'ji'jg and Nukumi (Grandmother) to Tall Man and Apistanewj. The small party travels in Mi'kmaq sea canoe from the island to the coast, escaping the Eli'tuat ship with the help of a pod of whales.

On land they journey inland through the forest to the Mi'kmaq winter camp. At the camp, Tall Man creates much interest. E's tells their chief Gaqtugwan Musigisg about the deadly encounter with the Eli'tuat. An elder Mi'kmaq declares that Tall Man is Glooscap. Tall Man accepts this, wondering what his destiny will be. As the winter ends, the Mi'kmaq are in dire need of food and this leads Gaqtugwan Musigisg to send Glooscap, Apistanewj, E's, Matues, Ta's'ji'jg and Jilte'g to hunt for food.  He believes their village will be safe with only eight warriors as it is too early in the spring for the Haudenosaunee to attack. Unfortunately, the village is attacked and destroyed by a group of Stadacona and Haudenosaunee warriors and Nukumi and ten children are taken captive. Glooscap and his party return to find the village and several women and children who survived because they were away from the camp. Ta's'ji'jg is badly injured when he tries to cut down what he thinks is his father's stuffed skin.  Glooscap decides to track the Haudenosaunee party and to free Nukumi and the women and children. At this time another Mi'kmaq party led by Jigjigi arrives. Although they cannot supply Glooscap with warriors, they agree to take the survivors to the summer camp along the coast. However, one of their warriors, Crazy Crow decides he will accompany Glooscap. As they begin to track the Haudenosaunee, it soon becomes apparent they will be drawn into an epic battle that only one side can win.


Further east, at the same time Tall Man is captured by the Eli'tuat, Mahingan and his family band of nineteen are wintering near a waterfalls. This band includes his little son Anoki, his brother Kag and his wife Kinebigokesi, their twin sons Makwa and Wabek, his brother Mitigomij, his sister Wabisi, the two warrior women Agwaniwon and Kina Odenan and their friend Kanikwe, as well as a Wabanaki family and two young Ouendat (Huron) warriors, Odingwey and Kekek. In February, Mitigomij comes to Mahingan and tells him he has heard and elk in the woods above the falls and he suggests they try to run him down because the meat will help them survive the remainder of the winter. Mahingan agrees and divides their group into two; Mitigomij will take the two Ouendat warriors, the twins and the two warrior women and their friend along with seven aminosh up the escarpment to show them where to begin their quest for the elk. Meanwhile Mahingan and his son Anoki will go to check the fish nets further downstream.

At the river, Mahingan encounters three young Susquehannock warriors attempting to rob the net. He notices that they are emaciated and weak. After hauling in the nets and loading the toboggan with the fish, Mahingan feeds the three warriors who are named, Sischijro, Oneega and Abgarijo. The three who are brothers tell Mahingan that they were captured by the Haudenosaunee, led by Corn Dog. They also tell him of a beautiful, intelligent and fearless Algonquian woman named Wabananang whom Corn Dog has ordered to be left alone as he plans to use her in revenge for an old enemy. Oneega also reveals that  Corn Dog has a close friend who is very tall and is a Mi'kmaq whom they call Winpe. Corn Dog has a huge number of warriors from various tribes, the Abenaki, Delaware, Mahican and Pennacook tribes and that after raiding the Mi'kmaq he plans to attack the Algonquins.

Kanikwe and his group track the elk but are attacked by a group of Haudenosaunee and Hochelagan warriors whom they manage to kill but not without losing Kekek. They are assisted in defending themselves with the help of Mitigomij and his black panther. Mitigomij warns Kanikwe that Corn Dog is up to something. Eventually Kanikwe and Mahingan meet up and tell each other what both have experienced. After this Mahingan decides that they need to determine Corn Dog's exact location so they can plan for his attack. But first his family group must journey to Asinabka (present day Chaudiere Falls) where they will spear sturgeon, walleye and sucker.  On their journey to Asinabka, Mahingan almost loses Anoki who falls into the river; he is saved by Mahingan's wolf, Ishkodewan. However Mahingan begins to feel that he has an important quest to undertake, that of bringing back his wife Wabananang and their daughter. This feeling is reinforced by a dream, and so Mahingan asks for warriors to accompany him once the spring fishing is completed. With seventeen warriors, four women and his son Anoki, Mahingan sets out to reclaim his wife and confront Corn Dog.

Corn Dog

Corn Dog is determined to avenge the death of his friend Panther Scar by Mahingan at the Battle of the Waterfall six years earlier. During the winter he has been raiding along the St. Lawrence, capturing warriors to strengthen his band. His plan is to have the Hochelagan and Stadacona Nation to join him in the spring, first to attack and destroy the Alonquin allies, by crossing the Kamatarwanenneh (the St. Lawrence River) to raid the Mi'kmaq and Wabanaki. This will prevent them from aiding the Algonquin. He will then attack the Bark Eaters, killing Mahingan and his brother Mitigomij. Corn Dog plans to use Mahingan's wife who has been a captive to lure Mahingan into attacking him.

In the spring, Corn dog meets Seven Dogs, the old chief of the Hochelagans to tell him his plan. Seven Dogs agrees but will not attack until June after his people have recovered from the hard winter. Corn Dog returns to his village, Ossernenon to obtain the permission of the Clan Mother to go to war. Corn Dog's Clan Mother of the Turtle Clan sets out to meet with the Clan Mother of the Wolf and Bear Clans to decide on the war chief. Eventually Corn Dog is sent to the Mohawk capital of Tionnontoguen where he is given the antlers of the war chief. He is allowed only one hundred warriors and ten women from the three villages. Contests are arranged to select the warriors and the women. Wabananang and her daughter Pangi Mahingan enter one of these,  the gruelling foot race through the forest even though Corn Dog tells her it isn't necessary as she will be travelling with them. However, Wabananang wants her seven-year-old daughter to also qualify because she knows that if she escapes and does not return to the Haudenausee village, her daughter will be adopted into a family and she will never see her again.

Corn Dog and his war party set out, first going to the healing springs at Saratoga and then after a six day journey arrive at the Stadacona village to add warriors. However Corn Dog is furious when he is given only fifteen warriors by the old war chief and when  he learns that the Mi'kmaq are now alerted to the possibility of attacks when the chief allowed some of his warriors to attack them. It is a foreshadowing of things to come as Corn Dog heads into battle against the Algonquin tribe and his enemy Mahingan.

Mahingan and his warriors stumble upon a group of  Mi'kmaq hostages being held by the Stadacona and Haudenosaunee. The same group is also attacked by Glooscap and Crazy Crow. Meanwhile, Wabananang along with her daughter has escaped Corn Dog's war party and is heading towards Mahingan, and the final deadly confrontation between the two arch enemies.


Revelle weaves together the three storylines of Mahingan, his arch-enemy Corn Dog, and the Beothuk, Tall Man/Glooscap and his Mi'kmaq friends. Eventually all three of these characters meet in what becomes a consummate battle between deadly rivals. This battle forms the exciting cliffhanger ending to the novel and sets the stage for the final novel in the trilogy.

As with the first novel, Revelle includes considerable detail about the culture of the indigenous peoples of Ontario and Eastern Canada. In this novel the author reveals more about the Mohawk nation, the People of the Flint, to the south of the Great Lakes and introduces readers to the Beothuk who were the aboriginal people of Newfoundland. In Algonquin Spring, readers learn how the Mokawk way of life was quite different from the Algonquins in that they lived in large communities of longhouses protected by wooden stake palisades and planted fields with what were called the three sisters: corn, squash and beans. While the Algonquins made summer and winter camps, the Haudenosaunee tended to remain in an area for a period of time. The Beothuk of Newfoundland are shown to be a peaceful people who keep to themselves and rarely war with other tribes unless forced to.

The author also presents other aspects of indigenous culture including descriptions of the use of natural remedies to heal wounds and other ailments. For example Mahingan mentions how the Mi'kmaq suffer from eye irritation due to being in smoky wikuoms during the winter and how the center of the mountain maple twigs are used as a poultice to relieve the irritation. When the warrior Ta's'ji'jg is severely wounded his wounds are treated with resin and yarrow. "Matues started a fire and heated the resin just enough that Apistanewj could work it over the wounds to seal the skin and halt the bleeding. The resin would be warm when it was applied, soothing the wound while sealing it. The yarrow he had applied before the resin. After sealing the cuts with the pine resin, Apistanewj laid the bark over the lesions. After cutting pieces of leather from our clothing to wrap around the bark, the task was complete." The warrior was then given cedar tea "to help soothe his pain and heal him from the inside."

The incorporation of cultural detail into the story means the indigenous peoples are portrayed in an authentic way. They are intelligent and caring towards their children, the injured and sick, in harmony with their environment taking what they need,  but also brutal and cunning in warfare.  Revelle doesn't shy away from describing the realities of warfare. In a battle with a Hochelagan, the Algonquin warrior Kanikwe narrates what happens; "I became engaged in hand-to-hand struggle with a man at least six-inches taller than myself...I grasped the club that I kept in my waistband, and as my foe made another thrust, I stepped aside and hit him flush in the face. Blood spattered all theway up my arm and I could hear the sound of breaking bone and his gasping for air. The warrior dropped to one knee and I buried my knife into his neck, with only the handle preventing the weapon from going any deeper. He turned and looked at me, spat out some teeth, smiled, and dropped on his side with a gush of air leaving his body. I reached down and cut off the ear nearest to me, putting it into the pouch where I carried the rest of my vanquished opponent's ears..."

Yet not all are like the Algonquin or Mohawk. This is shown through the character of Tall Man from the Beothuk, indigenous people who lived in what would eventually be called Newfoundland. Tall Man/Glooscap is horrified at the cruelty of the Haudenosaunee when he returns with the Mi'kmaq to find their village devastated. "After entering the burning remains of the site, I eyed two charred bodies tied to a post in a fire pit, burned beyond recognition. It was everything I could do to hold back a gagging reflex. My people very rarely went to war, and when we did, it was with the Inuit. Neither side in those conflicts ever chose to inflict this kind of cruelty." Torture by fire, running the gauntlet, and the removing of fingers and fingernails are some of the cruelties described in the novel.

Algonquin Spring is populated by many interesting characters, one of the strengths of this novel.  More is revealed about characters from the first novel, in particular Corn Dog and Mahingan's brother, Mitigomiji who is revealed to have special powers that explain why he is able to travel over land quickly. There are several new characters, the most important being Tall Man who is revealed to be Glooscap, an important figure in Mi'kmaq culture. Perhaps the most interesting new character is Crazy Crow whose back story is engaging and who adds considerable interest to the storyline. Revelle also incorporates some aboriginal mysticism into the story with suggestion that Mitigomiji is a shape-shifter and Crazy Crow's talking crow who leads Wabananang to safety.

As with the first novel in the Algonquin Quest series, maps would have been very helpful in placing both the locations of the various tribes and perhaps even documenting their journeys. Revelle also includes an excellent Author's Note that sets up the context for the continuing story of Mahingan and his ongoing conflict with Corn Dog as well as various glossaries for terms in several indigenous languages. It's quite obvious that Revelle has undertaken considerable research for his novel. 

Algonquin Spring presents a fascinating and informative snapshot of life in North America before the arrival of the Europeans and is a fine second novel, with a strong plot - something often lacking in middle novels of a trilogy and a colourful cast of engaging characters.

Book Details:

Algonquin Spring by Rick Revelle
Toronto: Dundurn Press   2015
290 pp.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Gentle Ben by Walt Morey

Gentle Ben is a classic story set in the wilderness of the Alaskan Territory. Thirteen-year-old Mark Andersen lives in Orca City a fictional fishing village along the Alaskan coast with his father Karl and his mother Ellen. His father is a seiner who owns a boat, the Far North and makes his living off the yearly salmon run. Mark had an older brother Jamie who died from tuberculosis.

Every day Mark can't help but stop by the shed where a five-year-old brown bear named Ben is chained to a post. The bear is owned by Fog Benson who captured him when he was a six month old cub, after shooting the cub's mother. Benson does not care for Ben well, and the bear is bony and thin from lack of food. Mark likes to share his lunch with Ben and then sit and scratch him under the chin, something the bear loves.

Mark wishes he owned Ben and could take him to the stream to each the tender shoots, grubs and salmon, but he knows his father will never agree. He hates the way Ben is kept in the shed and not fed properly but his fear of his father's temper is difficult to overcome. Mark's father is busy getting his boat ready for the opening of the salmon season in two weeks. His father and Clearwater, an older Alaskan man are working to make sure everything is ready so that when the opening is declared they can be ready at sea.

At dinner Mark's father reveals that Fog Benson has offered to sell him the bear for one hundred dollars. If he doesn't buy him, Benson plans on turning Ben out on the tundra and offering people the chance to take a shot at him. Mark speaks up and asks his father to buy Ben. At the urging of his mother Mark tells his father how he found Ben loose one day and how he took him back to the shed, scratching him under the chin. Karl is stunned and admonishes for allowing him to be with the bear who he considers a dangerous, unpredictable animal. However, Ellen tells her husband that she has seen the bond that has developed between Mark and Ben.

After Mark is sent to his room, Karl and Ellen talk about Ben; Mark decides to eavesdrop. Ellen tells Karl that Mark is not thriving; he's pale, has little appetite and is not active. Dr. Walker has indicated that this puts him at risk for tuberculosis which killed his brother Jamie. He was exposed and therefore is at risk. He needs exercise and good food. Ellen suggests they buy the bear because this seems to be the only think that Mark is interested in. Karl refuses, believing the idea is "preposterous". However, Ellen persists. "I only know that sometimes something does happen between people and animals. There seems to be a bond the overcomes all fear, prejudice, everything objectionable..." Ellen believes this is their one chance to save Mark from the same fate as Jamie.

In the morning Mark decides to hike across the tundra to the small valley and stream to set Ben free. But Ben is determined to stay with Mark so he leads him into the tall sedge grass in the hopes he can sneak off while Ben is feeding. Meanwhile at the house Karl discovers Mark is missing, so he follows Ben's tracks  to the valley. There he is confounded to see Mark asleep next to Ben, one arm along Ben's neck. Karl awakens Mark and tells him it was wrong to take Ben who doesn't belong to him and makes him take the bear back to the shed. At home, Karl presents to Mark the responsibilities he would have to undertake if he were to buy Ben; he will have to cut grass for the bear, feed him, work on the boat with Clearwater and learn how to swim. When Mark readily agrees to do all of this, Karl tells him that he will purchase Ben.

With Ben now his, Mark works hard to keep his end of the bargain. But when Ben is provoked into attacking a man, the people of Orca City want the brown bear gone. Mark reluctantly agrees to free Ben on an island to save him. Little does he know that a set of unforseen circumstances will reunite his with his beloved bear.


Gentle Ben is a classic animal story similar to that of Jack London's White Fang. The book was so popular that a television series was created in the 1960's based loosely on the novel, except that it was set in the Florida Everglades and featured a black bear. Morey's novel is typical for the time in which it was written; stories and television series featuring characters befriending animals and exploring the inexplicable bond that sometimes forms between man and animal were common. Lassie and Flipper are examples of other shows that were popular at this time. Gentle Ben is especially appealing because the animal of interest is a "brown bear...the largest, most dangerous big-game animal in North America." As Ellen tells Karl, "He is the largest carnivorous animal on earth. He is the last living relic of those fabulous hairy mammals of the Ice Age who migrated from Asia and Russia millions of years ago...He is a direct descendant of the legendary Siberian cave bear."

Gentle Ben is filled with the fascinating details of life in Alaska before it became a state in 1959. There are descriptions of the vast tundra and sweeping mountains, the life cycle of the salmon, the workings of various types of traps used to catch the salmon at sea, the ins and outs of working a seiner, and the fish pirates who steal salmon from traps and fish illegally in the spawning streams. Morey is able to convey a sense of the vast wilderness of Alaska and how precarious life can be in the far north. Karl Andersen had purchased his boat four years earlier and had just made the final payment. His family is dependent on the annual Alaskan salmon run to make their living, so the boat is crucial. Yet he loses his vessel in a winter storm when he takes over the mail run to make some extra money. Although Andersen survives the sinking, his best friend and crew member, Clearwater drowns.

Morey provides plenty of experiences for Mark that will help mature him; working for Ben's upkeep, learning to work on his father's boat, dealing with the death of Clearwater, the moving away of Mike Kelly and giving up Ben to save him from being shot. Before he owns Ben, Mark deeply desires to have the kind of relationship his brother Jamie had with their father. "He wanted to be friends with his father and feel that same closeness there had been between his father an Jamie...And he was afraid of his father's temper, the harshness of his voice. The look from  his father's blue eyes when he was displeased could freeze you inside. Mark was sure he would never know such warm companionship with his father." Although Mark does ask his father for Ben, it is his mother who forces Karl to reconsider. When his father agrees to buy Ben, Mark begins to see his father in a new way. As they are going up the path to see Ben in the shed, "Mark could not help noticing how his father's broad shoulders were back, his head high, the rest of blond hair shining in the bright morning sun..." Over time, Karl comes to acknowledge the relationship his son has with Ben. While he doesn't understand it, as it goes against everything he knows about brown bears, he comes to accept it.

Mark fulfills all of his responsibilities that he agreed to and even manages to work out an agreement with Mike Kelly to store Ben's food in his freezer over the winter. His first trip on his father's boat when he spends two days away from home lead Mark to begin to change - something he notices immediately. "He had been gone two days...He felt he had changed a lot. He felt as old, as experienced, as wise as Jamie had seemed that last year when he'd gone on the boat with their father. He knew he was not the same boy who had kissed his mother good-bye on the dock and then run aboard the boat so she wouldn't see the tears filling his eyes." His adventures over the summer also have the added benefit of improving Mark's health. At the beginning of the novel he is thin and sickly but after the summer his health vastly improves, he grows an inch and gains ten pounds and at the end of the novel he is described as being very healthy.

Gentle Ben is a heartwarming novel for those younger readers who love stories about animals and the outdoors. It's not a lengthy story, and the bond between Mark and Ben is curiously satisfying. Still a great classic read for children.

Book Details:

Gentle Ben by Walt Morey
New York: Puffin Books     1965
191 pp.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Suspect Red by L. M. Elliot

Set in Washington, D.C. during the Cold War, Suspect Red captures the paranoia and fear as politicans and the FBI are determined to hunt down potential Communists and subversives.

Fourteen-year-old Richard Bradley lives in a suburb of Washington with his nine-year-old sister Virginia (Ginny), his mother Abigail, and his father Don who is an FBI agent. Richard's father is a World War II veteran who served in the Air Corps as a rear gunner. Years later, he's still nervous around loud sounds and has trouble controlling his anger.

Richard will be starting high school and like any teen he's interested in reading books such as Robin Hood. However, everything and anything that even hints of socialism is purged. And this includes Robin Hood. He manages to read other banned books like Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon and John Steinbecks Red Pony, both of which have authors who are considered "Red subversives".  Richard has also been reading Catcher in the Rye by Salinger, but it is hidden from his mother.

Their Washington neighbourhood has many important people including Vice-President Richard Nixon. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI. In August, 1953, a new family, the Whites move into their neighborhood.  Richard and his mother take a meatloaf over as they welcome the Whites who are from Czechoslovakia. Teresa White tells Richard and his mother that they were lucky to escape Prague before the arrival of the Nazis and only because she had the good luck to be married to a member of the American diplomatic corps. They fled to London where they experienced the terror of the Blitz and then after the war travelled to New York. Teresa invites Richard to go upstairs to meet  her son Vladimir. As he passes through the house Richard cannot help but notice the unusual artwork and the amazing collection of books; The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, Animal Farm by George Orwell and many others. As it turns out, Vladimir shares Richard's love of reading. However, Vladimir is much more cosmopolitan that Richard, having travelled more and having an interest in jazz.

In September of 1953 Richard and Vladimir who attend Wilson High School, take the city bus together and also eat lunch together. Richard has spent time showing Vladimir the sights of Washington, their favourite being the Museum of Natural History. Vladimir continues to lend Richard books, many of which are banned and he introduces him to the world of jazz including Thelonius Monk, trumpeter Miles Davis and saxophonist Charlie Parker. Richard and his family attend McCarthy's wedding. The girl Richard's been crushing on since third grade, Dottie Anne Glover is also there but she's interested in Richard introducing her to his friend Vladimir. Angry at her father for not allowing her to join cheerleading, Dottie wants to go on a date with Vladimir who she believes is a "Red" as a way of revenge.

As his friendship with Vladimir continues to grow Richard's world is broadened by his experiences with the White family. He travels to New York where he is introduced to the artist and writer friends of Teresa - many of whom are considered questionable by McCarthy. Richard, although friends with Vladimir is also careful to note anything unusual. When Teresa is seen receiving a package from a strange man, Richard is both excited and worried. Based on the other things he's seen at the White home, he suspects Teresa might involved in something important and he decides to tell his father. But in doing so, Richard may be doing more harm than good, while betraying the only good friend he has.


In Suspect Red, Elliot tackles the 1950's, a difficult era to portray in historical fiction. Veterans had returned home, hoping to settle down to a life of peace but the world was anything but peaceful. America and the communist Soviet Union had emerged from the war as the world's two new super powers. Their military might depended on developing more sophisticated atomic weapons. To that end, America found itself in an arms race with the Soviet Union each trying to build bigger and more powerful bombs.In 1949, the Soviet Union successfully detonated an atomic bomb. Meanwhile Communism was spreading across the globe. Countries occupied by the Soviets at the end of the war, such as Poland, the eastern part of Germany, Yugoslavia, Romania and Albania saw Communist puppet regimes set up against the will of the people. Communism was also spreading in Asia - China had overthrown the Imperial dynasty and became Communist in 1949. Korea was now embroiled in war with Communists from Korea and China fighting to overthrow the U.S. backed government there. As a result, Americans saw communism as a real threat to their country, the world and their way of life.

The fear of communism in America really began after the Russian revolution of 1917 and the end of World War I. The war brought about great changes in class and social order as well as many attempts to establish the rights of workers. The early 1920's saw strikes for better wages and working conditions. In the 1930's Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal policies which aimed to help the unemployed, youth, elderly and poor were seen as socialist leaning. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was formed in 1938 to ferret out anyone suspected of subversive, communist actions.

In 1947, the Truman government sought to help foreign countries who fought communism through financial aid. Many companies, universities and institutions as well as local governments developed loyalty programs to ensure only loyal Americans were hired. It was at this time that many actors, directors and screenwriters were investigated and brought before HUAC. Soviet spies were discovered within the government and even a scientist from the Manhattan Project.  In 1950, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested for selling American information on the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. They were tried, convicted and executed in 1953.

Senator Joseph McCarthy
All of this helped set the stage for Senator Joseph McCarthy's crusade to root out any subversive, communist or anti-American activities. He was convinced that the U.S. State Department was rife with Communist sympathizers.  Academics, writers, actors, musicians and really anyone was at risk of being investigated. Once reported, they appeared before the committee where "evidence' was often flimsy at best and often rewritten to suit the charges. Often these people lost their jobs, and were black-listed, thus preventing them from being employed in their professions. Even Einstein, Oppenheimer, and Linus Pauling were investigated. People were careful who they associated with and which organizations they belonged to. People who had joined Communist organizations in their youth or who had been invited to attend Communist functions but who had no real affiliation were considered suspect. The fear of subversive Communist ideas led to widespread paranoia and the banning of books and types of art.

Elliot effectively captures the paranoia of the McCarthy era through the characters of Richard Bradley and his family. At the beginning of the novel, Richard is enjoying reading Robin Hood until his mother tells him he can't read it and takes it from him. She tells Richard that the local librarians have made a list of banned books and Robin Hood is on it. "Because Robin Hood takes from the rich to give to the poor...That's a Communist concept." 

Richard whose father is an FBI agent wants to believe his father is a great G-man (Government man) but he learns from his mother that his father botched a very important case - the Judith Coplon case. Coplon was suspected of spying for the Russians and was put under FBI surveillance. Richard's father was one of the FBI agents assigned to follow Coplon but lost her for twenty minutes when she was planning to meet her Russian contact. Coplon went free and the situation was an embarrassment for the FBI and Hoover. Now Richard is "searching for proof that Don really was as good a G-man as he'd always believed his dad to be."  This leads to Richard being on the look out for anything suspicious and that leads him to suspect his friend Vladimir's mother. Viewed through the lens of paranoia, the White family appears on the surface to Richard at least support subversive ideas.

Richard finds the White's have many books by authors he has never heard of like Truman Capote, Ezra Pound, D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot. He finds a copy of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, a Black author who portrays white people as racist. Vladimir's older sister, Natalia explains to Richard that a children's book, the winner of the 1952 Caledcott Medal for illustration is considered subversive because of one of its illustrations. She explains to Richard that this notion is ridiculous and that the illustrator's previous book, The Two Reds, is considered suspicious simply because of its title.  At her Christmas party, Teresa White expresses her disappointment at the State Department's decision to recall an exhibit of important American artists such as Georgia |O'Keefe and Edward Hopper from Czechoslovakia because it might be helping promote Communism.

On a visit to New York City with Vladimir and his family, watches Teresa meet a strange man and receive an envelope from him. She also meets Arthur Miller, the author of the play The Crucible, a controversial play whose theme of the Salem witch trials is a metaphor for the McCarthy hearings.

In the White home, Richard finds Czech newspapers, a map of Prague marked with red circles and arrows, a Life magazine with a picture of the AP bureau chief in Prague, William Oatis who was accused by the Czech government of spying for the US defaced with horns.

All of these little discoveries lead Richard to believe that the Whites might be involved in something sinister, so he reports everything to his father. However this leaves Richard feeling unsettled and guilty. He attempts to rationalize what he's done by telling himself that he has to be loyal to his dad first over his friend Vladimir and that "...he hadn't said anything bad about Vladimir. He'd simply passed on some interesting things he'd observed about people in Brooklyn Heights and Teresa's oddball friends." When he discovers that the White's home is being bugged, Richard realizes this has gone much farther than he anticipated. "Richard swallowed hard, fighting off vomit. He was weirdly elated and riddled with a horrible sense of responsibility at the same time. He knew there was something suspect abotu Teresa. But he liked her. And what had he done potentially to Natalia? To the brother who loved her so much, his best friend?"

The reality of what he's done sinks in when Richard learns from Vladimir what his mother has been doing all along - attempting to save the life of a cousin who has been sentenced to twenty years prison in Czechoslovakia on the testimony of William Oatis. However, the truth is too late for Vladimir and his family. Mr. White is suspended from his State Department job, pending a Loyalty Review Board hearing. He is considered a security risk because of Teresa who is friends with radical writers and artists. Although his suspension and review ends up not being due to what Richard told his father and what his father reported, Richard still feels deeply guilty for betraying his friend and his family. "...it was Richard's fault, for misinterpreting things, for making assumptions based on the bombast of powerful guys like McCarthy, for spreading gossip. For--how had Natalia put it?-- for not thinking for himself." 

Although his actions almost destroy his friendship with Richard the two boys do reconcile. But Vladimir has some advice for Richard, "It doesn't matter if you're liberal or conservative, man, just make your own decisions about what you believe." Vladimir also gives Richard a pin from Natalia with the reminder "that Robin Hood was his own man, with his own beliefs..." It is the quintessential lesson all teens must learn as they come of age as adults.

Writing a story set in the early 1950's was no doubt very challenging. Although told in second person, this novel is difficult to read when Richard oddly refers to his parents by their first names. However, Elliot does a great job in aiding her readers understanding of the 1950's era by including a great deal of historical information from this decade at the beginning of each chapter. This includes information numerous photographs on various topics and events related to the 1950s, including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the Korea War, the Soviet Union's hydrogen bomb test, Lucille Ball, Edward R. Murrow, and the McCarthy hearings. These detailed clips help to set the story in Suspect Red within the broader context of the times. Elliot also includes a detailed Afterword and Bibliography.

Overall, Suspect Red is good novel that explores the early Cold War in a way that will be appealing to younger readers, while informing them on this fascinating time in America.

Book Details:

Suspect Red by L.M. Elliot
New York: Disney Hyperion    2017
292 pp.

Friday, March 2, 2018

DVD: Wonder

Wonder is an incredibly wonderful adaptation of R. J. Palacio's outstanding debut novel of the same name. It is the story of August (Auggie) Pullman who was born with a serious facial deformity and has endured thirty surgeries. Having been homeschooled, Auggie's parents have decided that at age 10 it is time to enter the outside world by attending Beech Prep school. Auggie is understandably apprehensive as is his father, but he reluctantly agrees. He knows people will struggle to accept him.

Auggie's parents, Nate played by Owen Wilson and Isabel played by Julia Roberts visit the school before classes begin. Auggie is given a tour of the school by three classmates, Julian, Charlotte and Jack Will. Julian pointedly question's Auggie about his face.

The first day of school is as difficult as Auggie imagined, but he does begin to make a friend in Jack Will.  However, their friendship ends on Halloween, when everyone is in costume, Auggie overhears Jack making unkind remarks about him to his friends. As a result Auggie doesn't want to go trick or treating that night, but Via talks him into it. Although his friendship with Jack has crashed, Auggie begins to make another friend in Summer Dawson. Troubled as to why Auggie won't talk to him, Jack questions Summer, but she will only give him the clue "Ghost Face".  Eventually Jack figures out that Auggie overheard him and he makes amends by sticking up for Auggie when Julian calls him a freak. His fight with Julian gets him suspended but later on he and Auggie connect online and Jack apologizes to Auggie.

Auggie continues to be bullied at school by Julian and his friends. They leave nasty notes on his desk and a class picture is taped to his locker with the message to "die". Mr. Browne intervenes, and Julian along with his parents are brought before the principal, Mr. Tushman. Julian's parents are not cooperative and don't believe he's done anything wrong, but Julian has a change of heart. Mr. Tushman suspends him from the class trip to a nature camp. Auggie's quiet strength wins over his classmates and at graduation he is awarded the Henry Ward Beecher medal.

The movie also follows a parallel storyline about Olivia, Auggie's older sister who is quietly struggling in her own life, which is overshadowed by Auggie's health problems. Via's friendship with her best friend Miranda has suddenly and inexplicably dissolved. Although deeply distressed over this loss, Via isn't able to talk to her parents who are consumed with Auggie's struggles to adapt to school life. She finds herself attracting the attention of a fellow student, Justin who encourages her to sign up for the drama club which she does. As the year progresses, Justin and Via's relationship blossoms, she takes him to meet her family and of course Auggie. Eventually Via does open up about how she feels ignored by her parents.  Miranda and Via eventually repair their relationship, as Miranda comes to realize what she missed about the Pullman family. Her own family has disintegrated when their father abandons her mother who does not cope well with the divorce. As with the novel, the movie recounts events from various points of view, that of Auggie, Olivia, and Miranda.

The strength of this movie is twofold: remarkable casting which brings to life an outstanding, inspirational story. Young Canadian actor, Jacob Tremblay as Auggie gives a winsome performance. Tremblay wore a facial prothesis to somewhat mimic a facial deformity. Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts shine as Auggie's parents, capturing their warmth, and the care they have for both their children. Wilson plays Nate with gentle touch of humour while Roberts captures Isabel's quiet determination to help Auggie integrate into the world at large. Even those actors cast for secondary characters such as Daveed Diggs who plays Mr. Browne, Izabela Vidovic as Via and Milli Davis as Summer Dawson give compelling performances.

In the movie we see Auggie transform from a young boy so concerned about how he looks to other people that he constantly wears a space helmet to someone who is both accepted and who accepts himself as he is. When his father confesses to hiding his space helmet and then offers to return it, Auggie refuses his offer. It's clear, there is no going back, he can't hide forever.  But to get to this point, Auggie had to endure much bullying and ostracizing which he does with a quiet stoicism and an endearing sense of humour. But those who make the effort to reach out and get to know Auggie, discover a person who is smart, thoughtful, loyal and funny. There's a compelling charisma about Auggie that makes him a "wonder."

Wonder effectively captures the novels main themes of friendship, forgiveness, acceptance while offering positive portrayals of traditional marriage and family life, and realistic scenes of school. And the main message, that this journey through life is hard, so be kind, shines through at the very end.

If you didn't see Wonder when it was in theatres, make sure you take the time to check it out on DVD or Netflix.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Solving The Puzzle Under The Sea by Robert Burleigh

Marie Tharp was a geologist/mathematician/oceanographic cartographer who made a significant contribution to geology and our knowledge of the oceans. Born in 1920, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, Marie spent her childhood accompanying her father who was a soil surveyor for the United States Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Chemistry and Soils. Her father's work meant much travel and changing schools frequently. In fact, Marie moved some thirty times before she was fifteen. But this travel meant that Marie saw many different landscapes and geography. Marie's father told her, "When you find your life's work, make sure it is something you can do, and most important, something you like to do."

Unsure of just what she wanted to do, Marie decided to study literature at Ohio University. Her first choice, St. John's College in Annapolis did not admit women in the late 1930's. She graduated with a degree in English and music in 1943 from Ohio University.

Wartime meant that professions previously filled by men only were now becoming more open to women. One of those professions was geology. Marie had taken a course in geology during her undergraduate years at Ohio. Looking for something more challenging, she accepted an offer to enter the masters petroleum geology program at the University of Michigan.

Marie worked as a petroleum geologist for Standard Oil and Gas in Tulsa, OK but eventually left because the work was unrewarding. She returned to school, obtaining a degree in Mathematics from the University of Tulsa.

Seeking more fulfilling and challenging work, Marie began working at Columbia University in 1948 as a research assistant to Dr. Maurice "Doc" Ewing. Marie worked at what is now called the Lamont Geological Laboratory. Her job was to help his graduate assistants, one of whom was Bruce Charles Heezen. Heezen had begun mapping the ocean floor in 1947.

At this time, priority was given to mapping the sea floor using sonar soundings because the military thought submarine warfare might be the next threat. Unfortunately, at this time, because she was a woman, Marie Tharp was not allowed onto the navy vessels doing the mapping. Instead, she worked in the lab plotting the sonar soundings by hand. Marie's educational background proved to be of considerable value because her work required a knowledge of both geology and mathematics. She organized the sonar data and converted it into maps and profiles of the sea floor. Later on this work would be done by computers but in the 1950's it was done by Marie Tharp.

Tharp and Heezen's map of the ocean floor.
Gradually a profile of the ocean floor began to appear and it was unlike anything anyone had imagined. Instead of a flat expansive ocean floor, Tharp's maps showed ridges and valleys. In fact, the ocean profile of the North Atlantic suggested a rift running essentially through the middle of the ocean between North America and Europe which Marie thought might be similar to the rift valley found in Africa.

In 1915 Alfred Wegener had published his theory that all the continents were once part of a giant landmass which he called Pangaea. He based his idea on the fact that fossils, strata and landmasses were similar between the continents and that the landmasses seemed to fit together. The theory was roundly ridiculed partly because Wegener's mechanism for continental drift was wrong and because scientists did not have enough knowledge at this time about the sea floor or subsurface geology.

Armed with this knew perspective of the ocean floor, Tharp suspected that this ridge was where the continents were moving apart - in other words it seemed to support Wegener's idea of drifting continents - the theory of plate tectonics. Eventually mounting evidence in the form of earthquakes along the rift zone validated Marie Tharp's theory and her maps became one of the supports for plate tectonics.

Marie Tharp went on to have a stellar career at Lamont-Doherty. She and colleague Heezen continued to map the entire ocean floor and produced a comprehensive map in 1977. Eventually her contributions to geology and oceanography were recognized but not until she was much older. Tharp passed away in 2006.

One of Raul Colon's beautiful illustrations.
Solving the Puzzle Under The Sea tells Marie Tharp's story from her perspective, using a first person narrative. Burleigh's text captures Marie's interest in the world around her as a young person, her struggles to be taken seriously as a woman scientist and the sense of discovery and accomplishment as she creates her maps of the ocean and makes an astonishing proposal - one that  forever changes how we view our planet.

Raul Colon's realistic illustrations rendered in watercolors, Prismacolor pencils and lithograph pencils on Arches paper, accompany Marie's narrative. Marie Tharp's story, told in this attractive picture book format serves as a reminder to young girls that a career in science is both attainable and rewarding.

Burleigh includes a detailed biography at the back as well as a list of words and their definitions as well as a bibliography and a section titled "Things To Wonder About and Do" which encourages young readers to explore the world around them.

Solving The Puzzle Under The Sea is well-written, sumptuously illustrated and a must-read for those young readers interested in learning about the women who have gone before in the world of science, and for teachers, librarians and parents wishing to encourage a career in science.

Book Details:

Solving The Puzzle Under The Sea by Robert Burleigh
New York: Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers     2016

 map credit: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/06/08/images/HeezenTharp_900.jpg

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Shape of the World by K.L. Going

The Shape of the World is a picture book about famed american architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Frank Lloyd Wright was born in 1967 in Richland Center, Wisconsin. His father was a preacher and musician and his mother was a teacher. Wrights parents divorced when he was eighteen and for a time he worked while studying at the University of Wisconsin. But Wright wanted to be an architect so he left Wisconsin and began working in Chicago eventually finding employment with the renowned architectural firm, Adler and Sullivan.

Wright married Catherine Lee Tobin in 1899 and built his own home in Chicago's Oak Park. Soon his spiralling expenses resulted in Wright accepting work designing residential houses which was in violation with his contract with Louis Sullivan from Adler and Sullivan. This led to Wright leaving the firm and opening his own office to design residential homes. Over the next few years, Wright began to develop his own unique style, referred to as the Pairie Style.

In 1909, Wright abandoned his wife and family and left for Europe with his mistress, Mamah Borthwick. During his stay in Europe he wrote several publications that were to have a great influence on his peers. In 1911 he returned to the United States and built a new home, Taliesin near the village of Spring Green, Wisconsin. Wright settled into Taliesin with his mistress and her two children but tragedy struck when they were murdered in a fire deliberately set by an unhappy employee.

Wright's personal life was plagued by further disorder and catastrophe; he married two more times after the death of his mistress and at times he struggled financially. However, professionally he continued to create and design amazing buildings for clients in Tokyo and Los Angeles. His professional career waxed and waned. He went through periods with few commissions and turned to writing and teaching. In 1943, Wright received a commission from Baroness Hilla von Rebay to design a building to house the modern art collection of Solomon Guggenheim. It would take sixteen years to complete. He continued to design, write and teach into his eighties and nineties. Wright died somewhat suddenly on April 9, 1959 after an unexpected illness.

Wright is most famous for changing how architects view buildings in their surrounding landscape. He sought to design buildings that fit in with their surroundings. When he began the practice of architecture, buildings in the United States were often designed like those in the Old World. But Wright wanted to design buildings that fit with the landscape in America and created a long box style with many windows. Wright called his architecture "organic" meaning that it should fit in where it was located. Wright believed in affordable architecture that created a beautiful living space and he believed that everything connected to the building should be integrated, the architecture, the furnishings and artwork. Perhaps the building that most reflects Wright's view of architecture is the Kaufmann Residence (Fallingwater) in Mill Run, PA.

The Shape of the World focuses on the influences in Frank Lloyd Wright's youth that led him to develop his vision of architecture. Frank's mother believed he would one day build beautiful things and so she set before him blocks in many shapes; cubes, cones, cylinders and spheres.  Working on his uncle's farm exposed Frank to the beauty of the natural world. Going portrays how these influences led Wright to develop his style of architecture.

The illustrations by Lauren Stringer were rendered in acrylic, gouache, watercolour and coloured pencil on Arches oil paper. Stringer visited Taliesin where Frank Lloyd Wright spent so much time designing. There she gained an appreciation for the influence of nature on Wright's architecture. To better portray this influence Stringer's illustrations are filled with vibrant colours that bring to life the story of Frank Lloyd Wright. There are deep blues, rich greens and reds, muted greys and soft browns in the illustrations.

There are both an author and illustrator notes at the back along with a key to the illustrations in the book. This is a lovely and well-done introduction to an architect who is probably not that well known by younger readers.

Book Details:

The Shape of the World by K.L. Going
New York: Beach Lane Books    2017

Friday, February 23, 2018

Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork

Set in Cuidad Juarez, the largest city in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, Franncisco X. Stork's new novel, Disappeared weaves a nuanced story that brings together several aspects of life in the city including poverty, drugs, corruption, violence and the abduction of young women. The city is situated on the Rio Grande just south of El Paso, Texas and is known for its high rate of violence due to conflicts between the major drug cartels. Young women have been disappearing for years and little is done to recover them because of massive corruption. The story revolves around two main characters; Sara Zapata and her brother Emiliano and covers exactly a one week period beginning Friday March 24 to Friday, March 31 and is told in alternating points of view.

Sara Zapata

Sara Zapata lives in Juarez with her brother Emiliano and their mother. Their father left for the United States in the hopes of making a better living and promising to return. However, two years after he left, he sent divorce papers to Sara and Emiliano's mother, leaving them to struggle financially. Sara works at the newspaper, El Sol where she is a reporter. In January, Sara wrote a column about the disappearance of her best friend Linda Fuentes. Linda was kidnapped in November after leaving her job at a shoe store on Francisco Villa Avenue. In her column, Sara vowed to continue looking for her friend "forever and ever." To help in the effort to find these missing women, called Desaparecidas, Sara has been writing a weekly column profiling one of the hundreds of missing girls of Juarez.

Now on Friday, March 24, Sara finds herself in her boss Felipe's office along with her editor Juana, where she is told that there are to be no more columns on the Desaparecidas. Instead she is to focus on the positive aspects of the city. Felipe reveals that they have received a threat via email, "If you publish anything of Linda Fuentes we will kill your reporter and her family." When Sara objects, saying the columns ensure the girls are not forgotten, Felipe is insistent. Later Juana tells Sara that this email scares her and that she wants her to follow up on a story about a new mall near Zaragoza.

Sara forwards the email to Ernesto who is one of two IT's working at El Sol, hoping he can determine who sent the email. Ernesto recognizes that the email has been encrypted and sends it to his group of friends who are computer experts, known as Jaqueros.  When she checks in with Ernesto later he tells her that "...the medium is the message...The sender wants us to be aware of his power." Ernesto informs Sara that one of the Jaqueros recognizes the encryption and believes it is connected to the State Police. This concerns Sara greatly because she remembers the lack of sympathy from the police when she accompanied Mrs. Fuentes to report Linda missing and how they do not seem to care about the missing girls.

Despite Ernesto warning her that the further they investigate the greater danger she places herself and her family in, Sara tells him to continue. At 2:45pm when she checks the newspaper hotline, there are no emails. After letting Ernesto know, he calls Sara and states that all the emails have been deleted from Juana's computer. Since Juana doesn't know how to access them this is puzzling. However, Ernesto manages to extract the emails from the cloud and he sends Sara an email containing a photograph of a beautiful young girl with an older man in a nightclub booth. Sara is convinced that this is from Linda because the email has the word "puchi", their code word in the subject line. Sara realizes that this club is where the girls must be being held against their will so she directs Ernesto to see if he can learn the identity of the man while she will check on the girl.

Sara identifies the girl as Erica Renteria while Ernesto and the Jaqueros identify the man in the photograph as Leopoldo Hinojosa, head of the Public Security and Crime Prevention Unit of the State Police. Ernesto advises Sara not to tell anyone including Juana, Felipe or her family. Sara realizes that whomever is threatening her believes she must have something else incriminating but what? That night at a coworker's daughter's quinceanera Sara is warned by both Juana and Elias to give up her investigation of the Desaparecidas.

The following morning Sara discovers that a package was sent to her in the mail, which Luis the staff mailman placed on her chair. He tells her the white package looked like it contained a cell phone. Sara confronts Juana who asks her to tell her everything, but remembering Ernesto's warning Sara doesn't reveal much. Unable to locate the cell phone in Elias's office as Juana suggested, Sara turns her attention to a photograph she has of Erica in front of a Mormon church in Juarez. From the Mormon church website, Sara is able to talk to Alberto Mirabiles who is head of the church. She learns from Mr. Mirabile that Erica's brother was severely beaten and that the cell phone that was sent to her came from Erica who sent it to her family via a commercial laundry service. A note with the cell phone indicated that Erica was being held on a ranch near an airport. Mr. Mirabiles tells Sara that the laundry company was La Vaquita.

With this much information Sara knows that to proceed further and contact FBI Agent Alejandro Durand will mean crossing the line between the safety of not doing anything and the danger of acting on her conscience and doing what is right to help the missing girls.

Emiliano Zapata

Emiliano Zapata struggled after his father abandoned the family. He began shoplifting small items but eventually caught stealing an expensive video camera. Brother Patricio intervened, saving him from jail and took Emiliano on a hiking trip to the Sierra Tarahumara. Afterwards he and Brother Patriciano founded the Jiparis a sort of Boy Scouts group. Now besides attending Colegio Mexico, Emiliano runs his own folk art business where he sells pinatas that his friend Javier makes.

Friday, March 24 is going to be a busy day for Emiliano; he has to pick up the pinatas, then meet Armando Cortazar who wants to talk to him, and later in the evening attend a birthday party for Perla Rubi Esmeralda's mother. Emiliano is in love with Perla, the daughter of a wealthy lawyer but he knows he has almost no chance of ever being her boyfriend due to his social standing.

After picking up the pinatas, Emiliano heads to the Taurus nightclub where he meets Armando and is paid to take Armando's black Mercedes to the repair shop. When he returns, Emiliano is sent to meet Alfredo Reyes who tells him he wants to use his pinatas to ship drugs to the United States. The operation will stay small, only a dozen pinatas which will be stuffed with the "product" then eventually taken to Reyes' stores. This will net Emiliano thirty thousand pesos a week. Emiliano leaves the meeting both stunned and in deep conflict.

That night at Mrs. Esmeralda's birthday party Emiliano talks with Perla's father. He is overwhelmed at the wealth and opulence of the Esmeralda's home. Mr. Esmeralda reveals that he has connections with both Armando Cortazar's father and that Alfredo Reyes is a business associate. He tells Emiliano that when he was young he worked in a factory and saved to go to law school. At first he was a "good, conscientious, clean lawyer" but in order to "take care of his family" and to grow professionally he had to become involved in the dirty part of life in the city. Emiliano leaves the party in deep distress and conflict. In order to become part of Perla Rubi's life, he must become part of the narcotics trade in Juarez, a choice he knows to be evil. The choice before him is to be honest and continue to struggle to make a living or to "dirty" himself and make a good living for his family.

As Sara pieces together the information about Linda's disappearance and acts to help her friend, she knows her life will change forever. But will it be enough to save Erica and Linda? And can she save her family too?


Disappeared is yet another finely crafted novel by Francisco X. Stork. The novel was inspired by two events, the first was the thousands of young women who went missing in Cuidad Juarez over the period of a decade, the second was the recent U.S. presidential election in which anger towards illegal Latino refugees was intense. Set in Mexico in a city rife with violence as a result of the drug cartels, the two main characters must confront situations that require them to choose between two courses of action; one that is right and one that is wrong, one that is to act, the other that is to do nothing. The defining moment will affect their lives in ways they cannot foresee.

For Sarah Zapata, this comes when she learns about Erica Renteria's efforts to get the cellphone to her. "There is a line in front of her. One more step on behalf of Linda and her life will change forever. How does she decide between safety and the risk that comes from doing what her heart knows to be right?" Sara can choose to do nothing more but that will mean Linda will never be rescued. If she chooses to act on the information she now has, her life and the life of her family will change forever. Agent Durand attempts to explain this to her. But as Sara considers the consequences of acting or not acting, she remembers "The decision to act against evil is not measured by the impact it has on the evil but by the impact it has on the person who acts." For Sara, "The only thing that matters is that she act in accordance with her conscience." There is little interior conflict for Sara; without her help, without her taking risks, her friend Linda will never be found. Her conscience won't let her choose any other course but to act.

For Emiliano Zapata things are more complicated. He has just met with Alfredo Reyes who makes him a shocking offer to be a part of shipping drugs to the US through Javier's pinatas. This sets up an immediate conflict within Emiliano. Reye's proposal represents the chance to make big money, to pay the bills, to make a more comfortable life for his mother and sister and to be with Perla Rubi but it also goes against everything Emiliano has been taught. Brother Patricio who rescued Emiliano from jail has told him that "Success takes hard, slow persistent work..." without shortcuts. He thinks he will refuse Reyes. However in the overwhelming oppulence of the Esmeralda residence, Emiliano's indecision is symbolically demonstrated when holding his mother's cake - a representation of his family's values of honesty and hard work - he hesitates over where to take it. It represents the decision he must make. "Sooner or later he has to do something, take a step in one direction or another." 

Mr. Esmeralda tells Emiliano, "There's no way to be successful in Mexico without getting dirty. The best one can do is control the degree of dirt..." Esmeralda rationalizes the choices to become part of the dirty side of life in order to obtain wealth and prestige, "All I want to do is tell you that...growing up means, unfortunately, expanding our views of what we consider good and bad. Within that larger view, we do what can for our families, we create jobs, we help the less fortunatel...Getting dirty means doing what we have to do for our families and for those around us, given the realities of where we live, in this mess of a life that is good and bad."

Emiliano recognizes that what bothers him is that Esmeralda has told him the only way to be well off is to be a part of something that he knows inside is wrong. This is in contrast to Brother Patricio's advice. "Its those conditions that you hate. The conditions for having a house like Mr. Esmeralda's, for being allowed to be his daughter's boyfriend." Emiliano accepts Esmeralda's view and decides he will accept Reyes's offer telling himself that this will be helping his family. It is Javier who identifies more consequences of Emiliano's decision. To accept means putting Javier, a boy whom Brother Patricio rescued from truancy and addiction back into contact with drugs. It also means going against his Jipari pledge: "I will abstain from all intoxicants. I will be honest with myself and others. I will use the knowledge and strength the desert gives me for the benefit of others." Javier points out that Emiliano's involvement will break all aspects of the pledge, being honest and while it will benefit some, others will be hurt. Javier, although only fourteen shares some of his wisdom with the older Emiliano; that on the surface these people seem good but deep down are not nice and that the hunger for money is like the hunger an addict feels. "And the other thing I know as an addict is that once you get that hunger inside of you, you can't control it. It's impossible...You say we won't get greedy, that we'll stay small. But money is like heroin. Once you get it, you want more..." 

Just as Brother Patricio took Emiliano into the desert to help him after he was caught stealing, Emiliano once again finds his bearings in the desert. He tells Sara that he wants the life the Esmeralda family has for his family but "It's not possible to live without some kind of lying. It can't be done. If you think it's possible, then your fooling yourself." Sara reminds him "But there are conditions to living in that world, aren't there... It's those conditions that are bothering you. It's like it says in the Bible, 'What use is it to gain the whole world if you lose your soul?' " Sara tells him, "You know that you can never be the person those people want you to be."

After being attacked by two men sent by Hinojosa to rape and murder his sister, Emiliano still wants to be part of their world. At this point he still doesn't understand his motivation. It isn't until Emiliano is dying in the desert from an infected foot that he is able to recognize the motivation for his actions - anger towards his father for abandoning them. He is given a second chance to make the right choice after being saved by Gustaf and Lupe. Gustaf tells him about a man in Sanderson asking about undocumented Mexicans, whom he suspects is Emiliano's father. He offers Emiliano the choices before him, "If you want to call him, you can call him. If you want to stay, you can stay. I could use the help around here. Good old hard, honest work. Or go back to Mexico. It's up to you."  Emiliano decides he will call his father to let him know about Sara but his choice remains, "Good old hard, honest work. Or go back to Mexico."

While there are many other themes in the novel, the themes of anger, forgiveness and being the person God means you to be are deeply interconnected. The anger towards his father is Emiliano's motivation to accept Reyes's offer. In the desert with Brother Patricio, Emiliano learned that "unchanneled anger would destroy him, that anger needed to be converted into courage and determination to overcome the obstacles in life." This is in contrast to what Mr. Esmeralda tells Emiliano about courage, that controlled anger is a type of energy, a gift not to be wasted. But Sara tells Emiliano, "There are better sources of energy. Like love, or wanting to do something with your life. Anger makes you sick. It makes you go after hurtful things, as if hurting yourself is a way to get revenge on the person who hurt you." In the desert, dying, Emiliano comes to understand how his anger towards his father suing for divorce has harmed him. "The anger started then and there, and everyone assumed that in time it would go away, but he made sure it didn't. He kept it alive. That anger turned to wanting more, to be more and better than his father. But he was never better, was he?" Emiliano realizes his father was just trying to be the best person he could be.Of course the best choice for Emiliano's father would have been to remain faithful to his wife, to honor his promise to her and to his son and to have tried to bring them to America. While that did not happen, Emiliano now realizes his father was trying his best.  "The man, his father, a flawed human being like any other, chose to be and do good, as best he could."  

Mami and Sara come to recognize the same struggle in her son when she tells him; "And Emiliano, son, her in Mexico it is too hard for you to be the person God wants you to be." Sara also tells her brother, "I think we are all meant to be the best person we are capable of being. You're right that we need to choose to be that person. But sometimes, circumstances make it hard for us to make the right choice..."

Stork utilizes the image of a spiderweb as a metaphor for the connection between wealth and narcotics in Juarez and Mexico. A spiderweb's function is as a trap for insects. Once ensnared, the insects are doomed. In the same way, Emiliano is facing entrapment in the spiderweb of the drug trade in Juarez in order to better his family's life.  Mr. Esmeralda tells Emiliano that he knows Alfredo Reyes. "This city is like a spiderweb. Every thread is connected directly or indirectly to every other thread. Enrique Cortazar, Alfredo Reyes, myself, we are businessmen."  Esmeralda points out that Colegio Mexico gives out scholarships because of financial aid from businessmen like himself and Cortazar. That he is already part of the web that connects everyone in Juarez to money and drugs. Emiliano learns very quickly how vast the spiderweb really is when he and Sara are tracked through the desert.

Disappeared has been written in an era when there is much anger in the United States over illegal immigrants from Mexico. Stork's novel conveys the real plight of refugees from Mexico; the difficulty in leaving behind one's beloved country with its connections to family, language and culture, and the reality that people often become refugees out of necessity. If given the choice,  most would prefer to live a life of safety and peace in their homeland. In this regard, Disappeared asks young readers to rethink what they hear in the media and to try to understand that Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal are not that much different than Americans.

Stork has crafted an entire cast of complex, realistic characters. Sara Zapata is the true heroine, who never really falters in her choice to do good, but Emiliano is more complex and nuanced. His struggle is more realistic. He has his good qualities such as his devotion to his family and his desire to help others, but also his weaknesses such as his inability to forgive his father. Many of Stork's characters in the novel are similar in this regard as is noted by both Emiliano and Sara. Emiliano thinks, "Or maybe the bad people look more like the good people, he thinks. Armando, Mr. Reyes, Mr. Esmeralda. They don't look like your typical narcos." He finds Lester, the man sent to kill his sister confusing, "It's like seeing evil and some kind of goodness and innocence all rolled into one, inseparable." 

Disappeared is an outstanding novel, well written and timely. This kind of quality writing, characterized by a strong story, well developed characters and rich in thematic elements to explore, is much needed in young adult literature. Definitely another brilliant contribution by Francisco X. Stork.

Book Details:

Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork
New York: Arthur A. Levine Books       2017
326 pp.

Monday, February 19, 2018

I Am Algonquin by Rick Revelle

I Am Algonquin is the first book in a trilogy by Canadian author, Rick Revelle who is a member of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation.

The novel tells the fictional story of Mahingan and his family who are members of the Omamiwinini (Algonquin People) in the fourteenth century before the arrival of the Europeans. Mahingan, born in 1305, is from the Kitcisipiriniwak tribe (People of the Great River) - one of the eight Algonquin tribes of the Ottawa Valley. Mahingan and his family are living through a period of cold winters and cool summers creating hardship for the Algonquins.

The novel opens with Mahingan and a small hunting party that includes his two brothers Kag (Porcupine) and Wagosh (Fox) on a trip north to find game for their starving village. Each of the five family units have sent a hunter north to the Land of the Nippissing. The lack of snow this winter has made the hunting of the monz (moose) and wawashkeshi (deer) difficult. Kag is a fierce warrior while Wagosh who is younger is a good tracker and hunter but untested in battle. The other hunters include Monz and Makwa, both of whom are married to Mahingan's sisters. Also with the hunting party are Kag's twin sons, Agwingos (Chipmunk) and Esiban (Raccoon).

Six days into the hunt they slay a deer caught in the ice and then soon their dogs pick up the scent of a moose. Mahingan's group quickly kills the moose but immediately face another danger - warriors from the Nippissing. They are hunting in Nippissing territory and the moose is meat that would sustain both tribes in this difficult winter. Although Mahingan's party manages to defend themselves, killing and wounding several of the Nippissing, they lose Makwa who is killed by a blow to the head.

Pulling five toboggans laden with moose meat along with a travois pulled by dogs, Mahingan's hunting party begins the long journey home. They must keep watch in case the Nippissing decide to pursue them and they must also bury Makwa. After burying their warrior, Mahingan and his party are set upon by ten mahingans (wolves) but are able to ward them off after killing four of the pack. Mahingan's party eventually reach their village with the much needed food, to be greeted happily but also with the news that two of their village have died.

The village protector is Mahingan's younger brother Mitigomij (Red Oak) who was born with a club foot. As a result, he has become accomplished in all forms of weapons including the spear, war club, knife and sling shot. His constant companion is a black panther Makadwa Waban (Black Dawn) whom he rescued when he was twelve-years-old. A brutal encounter with four warriors of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) when he was sixteen, resulted in death for three and the mauling of the fourth by the black panther. It is an encounter that will have serious future repercussions for the Omamiwinini.

Weeks after they return, Mitigomij spots six canoes making their way up the river. Mahingan learns they are Hochelagans whom he believes have come to scout the location of the various villages of the Omamiwinini. Mahingan, believing an attack in imminent, organizes a plan that involves moving the women, children and young boys to safety, calling in warriors from surrounding family units, and preparing an attack to kill the Hochelagan warriors so they cannot return to their tribe. Asiniwabidi (Stone Elk) returns from scouting to reveal that there are more Hochelagans than originally thought and that they have raided the Otaguttaouernin and have captured Kwingwishi, the young woman Mahingan's brother, Wagosh wants to marry. With forty-eight warriors the Omamiwinini soundly defeat the Hochelagans, freeing the captured Otaguttaourenin and torturing and killing the Hochelagan warriors.

Mahinigan and his tribe are now safe for some time to enjoy the spring and summer. The summer gathering of the various Omamiwinini family units sees Wagosh marry Kwingwishi while Mahingan learns his wife is pregnant. During this time Migadinan-andeg (War Crow), chief of the South Nippissing Band challenges Mahingan's people to a game of lacrosse to settle their dispute over hunting rights. The game sees no winner but  Mahingan offers Migadinan-andeg a wampum belt offering peace and an agreement regarding each other's hunting grounds. After the Nippissing leave, Mahingan receives word from a Wabanaki (Abenaki) warrior that the pijaki (buffalo) will soon be arriving in their territory.This is an unusual event as buffalo are not native to this area. The two tribes work together to kill many buffalo for meat and hides, meaning their tribes will not starve during the winter. On their way home from the Wabanki grounds, Mahingan's party are attacked by a small group of Haudenosaunee, resulting in the death of Makons.

After safely returning to their village, Mahingan's nephews, the twins Agwingos and Esiban undergo the Wysoccan journey. While this is occurring, Migadinan-andeg and his Nippissing warriors return to seal the peace pact and celebrate with a great running race. Shortly after this, Wabananag gives birth to a son, Anoki.

But late in the summer, a forest fire devastates the Omamiwinini lands, forcing Mahingan to relocate their village on the larger island in the river. Unaware of the significant danger posed by the Haudenosaunee warrior Panther Scar whom Mitigomij spared years ago, and believing the other families would gather for the summer meeting, Mahingan along with his brothers, Mitigomij and Kag and a group of warriors travel to the Ouendat to trade. A brutal attack by the Haudenosaunee led by Mishi-pijiw Odjishiziwin - Panther Scar and Corn Dog (Mandamin Animosh) wipes out the remaining warriors left at Mahingan's village. Wabananag manages to hide Anoki in a small cave before she is captured along with the other women and children. Black Panther split up, with Corn Dog intending to raid Algonquin settlements to the north.

When Mahingan returns to his village he finds it burned and many dead and mutilated warriors. Wagosh is found dead in the forest and is buried. Although Mitigomij was attacked by Corn Dog, he survived after being saved by his black panther. He returns to the village where he finds Mahingan preparing to make war.

Determined to avenge the destruction of his people, Mahingan rallies a large force that includes the Nippissing, the Omamiwininini, and the Ouendat, to fight the Haudenosaunee. He also enlists the help of the Innu and Malecite.  After days of pursuit, Mahingan eventually catches up with Panther Scar at the portage and a final battle between the two settles the score in his favour. While Kag is able to free his wife, Kinedigokesi he informs Mahingan that his wife Wabananag is still alive, setting the stage for the next novel.


Canadian author Rick Revelle decided to write I Am Algonquin because there were few if any novels about the First Nations people of Canada and he wanted young readers to learn about the culture and beliefs of the people who lived here well before any European set foot on the continent.  Revelle's great-great-great-grandfather moved his family from the Algonquin reserve in Quebec to Bedford Township near Kingston, Ontario, an area that was part of the traditional lands of the Algonquin nation well before the colonization of North America. Revelle's Algonquin ancestry naturally led him to focus on his Algonquin culture. The novel is set in the early fourteenth century and therefore required extensive research by the author as little is known about the Algonquin's prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Revelle's goal for this novel, is that readers will "learn something that you didn't know about the Algonquins and their Allies, and that it will help in a small way to bring attention to the Algonquin language."   I Am Algonquin is overwhelmingly achieves both these goals.

Revelle details almost every aspect of life in an Algonqin family unit including hunting, food preparation and storage, games, birth and death rituals, the roles of men, women and children within the family unit and warcraft. Readers also come to understand the relationships between the various nations in the pre-colonial era. All of this is done in a most effective way by Revelle, who incorporates these details seamlessly into his story along with many words from the Algonquin language. One of the more interesting rituals is that of the Wysoccan journey to manhood where childhood memores are erased by ingesting a herb that induces madness. The drug is administered over a period of days and results in memory loss. The loss of childhood memories allows the young men to be trained in the ways of a warrior.

Two aspects of life during this period stand out. The first is the unrelenting struggle to survive in the harsh wilderness of Ontario by what is essentially a stone-age culture. Mahingan states, "We were constantly struggling to have enough to eat and always battling the elements to stay warm or dry. Add the constant threat of our enemies and it was a life of never-ending vigilance." He believes, "The lives of the Omamiwininini people were always in the hands of Kitchi Manitou. Our lives seemed to be always a battle against starvation, grief, and the constant fear of our enemies."

The second is the constant threat of war and the brutality of these conflicts. Revelle captures all of this in his story. "These battles were always brutal because of the weapons we used -- arrows and lances that tore as they entered the body. Hand-to-hand combat with knives that ripped and cut. War axes that broke bones and caused tremendous head wounds." Surviving a battle wounded meant bleeding to death or dying from infection. A warrior captured alive was tortured and forced to run the gauntlet, and often brutally maimed and murdered. When the chief of the Hochelagans is captured Mahingan describes his fate. "The Hochelagan was a brave man. Not once did he cry out in pain. when he reached the end of the line he was bloodied from cuts and his feet were seared from the coals. We then gave him to the women, who took him and finished the job of torturing him until he died. The women cut out his heart at the end, and it was given to the man who had captured him."  If anything, this novel should dispel the myth that the life of the indigenous peoples in Ontario was one of peace and fraternity. Defending their hunting and territorial rights was essential and the consequences of war were immediate and devastating as Revelle's novel demonstrates through the character of Mahingan. The attack by the Haudenosaunee result in the decimation of Mahingan's warriors and the captivity of their women and children. 

But I Am Algonquin is not just a novel filled with the rich details of life in 14th century Ontario; there is also a strong storyline that continually holds the interest of the reader with frequent conflicts between nations, attacks involving dangerous animals, storms and a forest fire. We follow Mahingan as he returns from an adventure-filled hunting trip that saves his village from starvation to battles with the  Haudenosee and the Hochelagans, a peace settlement with the Nippissing, the birth of his son, a forest fire and a devastating encounter with the Haudenosee that results in a cliff-hanger ending.

Revelle crafts a varied cast of characters for his novel. Mahingan, leader of his family unit is intelligent, wise, and courageous but fatally misjudges the effects of the forest fire and the Haudenosee. Perhaps the most unique character is Mitigomij, Mahingan's brother who despite a club foot, is a warrior of renowned skill. The novel is populated with a large number of supporting characters who help flesh out the story including two fierce women warriors.

Despite all of these very positive attributes, unfortunately the writing in I Am Algonquin is sometimes repetitive, at times awkward and is marred by numerous grammatical errors including the use of wrong words, mixed tenses and switching points of view. This poor editing and proofing, by no means restricted to this book or publisher, I hope has been corrected in the second and more recently published third novel. Canadian literature needs more stories about the First Nations people, especially before the arrival of the Europeans so we can learn about their rich culture and history. These stories need to be told in an engaging way that captures the imagination of young readers but must also be well written and edited. A novel such as I Am Algonquin is the perfect vehicle to inform a new generation of Canadians about our Indigenous Peoples.

Book Details:

I Am Algonquin by Rick Revelle
Toronto: Dundurn Press     2013
275 pp.