April 07, 2016

Go Home Bay

by Susan Vande Griek
Illustrated by Pascal Milelli
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 6-9
April 2016

Groundwood Books was recently honoured by being named the Best Children’s Publisher of the Year at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and Go Home Bay is another title in its worthy collection,  demonstrating why Groundwood Books received this award.

From Go Home Bay
by Susan Vande Griek and Pascal Milelli
Go Home Bay, the story, is loosely based on the events that took place during the summer of 1914 on Go Home Bay in Georgian Bay.  Canadian artist Tom Thomson, who became one of Canada’s best-known artists, was invited by a patron, Dr. James MacCallum, to stay at his cottage.  While there, Thomson taught MacCallum’s young daughter, Helen, to paint.  This is their story.

In expressive free verse, as redolent as Pascal Milelli’s illustrations are of Thomson’s own artwork, Susan Vande Griek shares the arrival and introduction of the artist to the young girl, who watches his outdoor routines of campfire cooking, fishing, canoeing and, of course, painting with quiet appreciation.  Then, one day, he encourages her to paint with him: wildflowers, a rowboat, his canoe, Go Home Bay, a pine tree.
Wild the west wind blows. 
“Quick!” Tom calls.
“Let’s paint a pine." 
And down by the shore, 
clothes flapping, as we go.
Dark clouds cluster,
The air blusters and puffs. 
Tom points and shouts,
“See how the branches 
sway and bend.” 
So we paint them out over the water,
west wind sent,
trees that are forever
west wind bent. (pg. 22)
This extraordinary summer of Tom Thomson guiding Helen’s eyes to see and her hands to paint was immortalized in several of his key artworks, including The West Wind and Boathouse, Go Home Bay, but the experience and memories with which Helen MacCallum was left were far greater than just the painting he gives her. 

From Go Home Bay
by Susan Vande Griek, illus. by Pascal Milelli
What an experience to have learned to paint from one of the greats of the Canadian art world and to have listened to patron and benefactor discuss art and other important issues of the day.  Susan Vande Griek tells of that summer with the transcendent calm of a respite at the cottage when time is endless and warmth is embracing.  A time of inspiration and inspiring.   The text is replendent in colours and textures, much like Pascal Milelli’s bold, homagic illustrations evocative of Tom Thomson’s own style of painting.  Pascal Milelli’s art, already recognized with an Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Award, is rich in earthy greens and terra cotta, turquoises and blues of expansive water and sky.  Like Tom Thomson, Pascal Milelli uses of ribbons of colour to produce layering within the landscape and its components, creating softness and movement.  The illustrations paint a serenity and a magic of a time and place long gone but ever remembered.

Go Home Bay is an auspicious addition to my recent Art in youngCanLit booklist, joining its sister book by Susan Vande Griek and Pascal Milelli, The Art Room (Groundwood, 2002), as an important children's picture about an legendary Canadian artist.

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