Prairie Fire Review - Christmas at Wapos Bay

Reviewed by: Donna Gamache

Christmas at Wapos Bay by Jordan Wheeler (of Winnipeg) and Dennis Jackson (of Saskatoon), is part of the Coteau series From Many Peoples, published for young readers during Saskatchewan's Centennial.

The story begins with three Cree children at the trapping cabin of their grandfather (Mushom) on a northern Saskatchewan lake. Talon and Raven and their cousin, T-Bear, have never lived in the bush, but are eager to learn the old ways. T-Bear, especially, thinks he might like to take over Mushom's trapline. (However, T-Bear's father believes that city life is better, and has no intention of allowing him to spend much time in the bush.)

Conditions at the cabin are very difficult just now. A fire the previous summer destroyed much of the habitat, making hunting, trapping, and fishing poor. Another problem surfaces, too--Mushom is not well. Because food is scarce, he has been eating little, giving his portion to the children. Also, he has attacks of pain in his side, and his eyesight is not good, making it difficult for him to shoot an animal.

The children's parents, grandmother, and great-aunt and -uncle arrive at the cabin to celebrate Christmas, but unless the hunt is successful, everyone will have to leave. Talon, T-Bear and Raven decide to sneak out with Mushom's dog team to find food, so that everyone can stay. They don't realize that they are unprepared for the task, or that a storm is threatening which may catch them out on the lake.

This book was designed to show life in northern Saskatchewan from the aboriginal viewpoint, and it does that well. However, I felt that it moved very slowly, with too many minute descriptions of actions and conversations. Also, the story is told from multiple viewpoints, including those of the three children, all the adults (seven), and even, sometimes, the dogs. The result is that the reader does not identify with anyone, which I believe young readers like to do.

Some information the reader needs is also missing. We are never given ages for the children, and it is only on page 60 that we learn T-Bear is Talon's older cousin. No explanation is given as to why the children came to the cabin ahead of their parents, or how long they have been there. One incident near the end also bothered me. During a break in the storm Mushom tells the children to leave the tent behind, so they can hurry back to the cabin, and he will pick it up later. But then, when the storm resumes, they put the tent back up! 

This story was originally an animated film from the National Film Board (2002), and it probably worked very well in a visual form. (I'm surprised that the book contains no credit to the film.) I think it could work as a book, too, if one viewpoint (probably T-Bear's) was used. But right now it reads like somebody relating what he sees as he watches a film.

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