December 22, 2017

The Spirit Trackers

Written by Jan Bourdeau Waboose
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Fifth House Publishers
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
November 2017

It's been far too long since the CanLit world has welcomed a book from Jan Bourdeau Waboose, a First Nation Anishinaabe of the Ojibway Bear Clan of northern Ontario.  Adding to her stunning collection of picture books which includes SkySisters, Morning on the Lake and Firedancers, Jan Bourdeau Waboose's telling tale of Ojibway traditions and the relationship between children and their uncle is breathtakingly illustrated by François Thisdale, award-winning artist of The Stamp Collector, Missing Nimâmâ, and French Toast.  The Spirit Trackers is a magnificent story in words and art, melding together First Nations and an intergenerational relationship with legends and spirits and the wonder of children.
Illustration by François Thisdale 
used in The Spirit Trackers by Jan Bourdeau Waboose
Two cousins are awed by the stories told by their uncle of their clan, the Moose Clan, and their heritage of extraordinary trackers but it's the story of the Windigo that truly captures their attention.  His story of the Wandering Night Spirit of Winter is a warning to the boys. 
"Watch out for the Windigo on a winter night.  It has a heart of ice, and its teeth are like steel.  It will eat anything in its way!" 
"Even the best Trackers disappear in Windigo's footsteps."
In the night, the boys are awakened by a Thump! Bang! and, upon seeing a black shadow cross the window, are convinced the Windigo has visited their uncle's house.  The next day, however, evidence in the snow and on a tree compel the two to put their tracking skills to work.  But far from the house, hearing a sad cry that "slices the air like a trapper's knife" the two are immobilized with terror.  It may not be the Windigo but the boys demonstrate the aptitude in tracking and their reverence for the natural world, especially for an animal they know to honour.

Jan Bourdeau Waboose infuses her atmospheric text with the companionship of family and an appreciation for traditions and legends of First Nations. Because of that, an occasion of storytelling becomes more; it becomes a lesson in caution and curiosity and heritage. Tom and Will are apt students at their Uncle's knee, listening, hearing and learning.  Resplendent in snow, the frigid medium of trackers, The Spirit Trackers is an appropriate visual and textual read for the winter season.  Artist François Thisdale makes sure that his illustrations transport readers to that frosty season and to a life of snowshoes, moosehide clothing, and ravens.  Combining photographs, drawings and paint with digital imagery, François Thisdale lends a supernatural essence to the story, perfect for a pair of boys already spooked by their disquietude about the Windigo but determined to follow the path of their tracker ancestors into the unknown winter stillness shattered by a haunting cry.
Illustration by François Thisdale 
used in The Spirit Trackers by Jan Bourdeau Waboose
Whether you believe in the Windigo is irrelevant.  The boys believe, as does their Uncle, and in the stillness and cold of winter, it's a story, like The Spirit Trackers, that has much to teach.


The illustrations included in this review are derived from illustrator François Thisdale's Facebook page at Thisdale illustration.

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