July 17, 2013

Northwest Passage

by Stan Rogers
As seen by Matt James
Groundwood Books
56 pp.
All ages
September 2013

Ah, for just one time
I would take the Northwest Passage...
                                                             – Stan Rogers, 1981

And so begins a journey.  A journey of  explorers to find a northern route to Asia.  A journey for singer-songwriter Stan Rogers to discover the multitude of pulse points of our nation. And yet another journey.  That of Matt James, award-winning illustrator of I Know Here (Groundwood, 2010), in his visual interpretation of the Stan Rogers' 1981 song that many believe may be the epitome of a Canadian ballad.

Ballads are perfect for wrapping up history in story-telling, and the selection of Northwest Passage for an illustrated book is inspired.  Matt James' acrylic paintings easily transport the reader from the beautiful but dangerous iridescent turquoise waters of the Arctic through the snow-clad or barren lands of the tundra and our mountainous regions.  There are sightings of narwhal, snowshoe hare, polar bear, bear and buffalo.  There are crisp cold nights, and bright sunny days, overcast skies and impenetrable fogs. There are the travellers on old sailing ships, the coureurs de bois and Aboriginal People in canoes, First Nations on horseback, Canadians in planes and musicians in Rogers' yellow touring van.  And there are those points in history and the characters who gave substance to the ballad: Sir John Franklin, David Thompson, Alexander Mackenzie, and others, all included in the double-spread titled, "A Gallery of Explorers."

Matt James' selection of Northwest Passage is all the more profound for the number of young readers who will never get to experience Stan Rogers' talent first-hand.  But, though thirty years have passed since Rogers' death, Matt James has refreshed his memory with eloquence and colourful passion.  Northwest Passage, the book, will have Canadians such as myself revisiting the song, over and over and over again, while introducing younger readers to Stan Rogers' legacy, hopefully compelling them to search out his music and biographic information at the Stan Rogers and Fogarty's Cove website http://stanrogers.net/ or elsewhere.

While no young reader wants to hear this, I believe that Northwest Passage will be a unique teacher resource for melding language and music with Canadian history, supported by the wealth of additional content about the First Arctic Peoples, the explorers, especially Franklin's expedition, and the European settlement of Canada.

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