January 02, 2015

The Old Ways

by Susan Margaret Chapman
Illustrated by John Mantha
Fifth House
32 pp.
Ages 5+
October, 2014

The clash of cultures between generations is seemingly inescapable but it must be especially overpowering for those of Aboriginal heritage.  For older members, the history and perhaps memories of the old ways being driven from them by heavy-handedness might compel them to relinquish those traditions or to hold on even tighter.  Although young Simon in The Old Ways may be oblivious to the history of his culture, his grandparents, Ananaksaq and Ataatga, undoubtedly are not, but their kindness and wisdom help them educate Simon in the most subtle of ways.

You see, Simon is a child drawn to the amenities of contemporary culture: computers, TV, video games and even pizza. But, living with his Ananaksaq and Ataatga, his life includes caribou stew, story-telling and offers to build igloos.  Simon may think, "Ataatga and the old ways again" but when a snowmobile trip to Igloolik to visit family takes a dangerous direction, the young boy realizes the value of the old ways in ensuring more than just their survival.

The cover of The Old Ways states that the story was inspired by a true story and perhaps that is why it is all the more poignant.  Preaching to children of the way things used to be done is worthless when young ones have no connection to those ways.  It's irrelevant if mom and dad walked to school or didn't use computers; their children only know about getting driven to school and being digitally connected to everything. But author Susan Margaret Chapman allows Simon to witness the benefits of the old ways and come to the realization of their worth for himself, rather than demanding his acceptance. His grandparents make him aware of their ways, sharing with him as needed, but they wisely allow him to come to them when he's ready to really learn about these ways. And John Mantha's illustrations make almost tangible the simplicity of a northern lifestyle, whether in the house or on the cold, blue tundra while exposing the contrast between old and new.

While The Old Ways is a lovely and valuable resource for teachers to introduce the concept of comparing cultures, over time and place, it is also a story of connecting between generations, recognizing that sharing is a demonstration of respect and should be appreciated as such.

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