We are so pleased to be participating in the first annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day: A Celebration of Diversity in Children’s Literature, brought to you by two fabulous bloggers who have teamed up for this extraordinary event: Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom.
The overall mission of the Multicultural Children’s Book Day: Celebrating Diversity in Children’s Literature event is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.
More information about the event can be found on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day site. We’d also like to send out a big Thank You to our sponsors: Wisdom Tales Press, Lee & Low Books, Chronicle Books, and author Susan Fayad. In particular, I wanted to give out a special shoutout to Groundwood Books who were kind enough to send me a copy of the book we are reviewing today, The Red Sash by Jean E. Pendziwol. Thank you!
Title: The Red Sash | Author: Jean E. Pendziwol | Illustrator: Nicolas Debon | Publication Date: September 15, 2005 | Publisher: Groundwood Books | Pages: 40 | Recommended Ages: 5 to 10 | Reviewed by: Renee (Mother)
Summary: A young Native American boy is at the heart of this charming adventure that takes place nearly 200 years ago. The story centers around the busy fur trading post of Fort William on Lake Superior. In the winter, the boy’s father guides voyagers into the northwest to trade furs. Those same voyagers paddle back to Fort William with their packs of furs, while another group comes in from Montreal bringing supplies. It’s a time of feasting, dancing, and trading stories around the campfire.
My Thoughts: I have always maintained that the best, most memorable and life-changing course I have ever taken throughout my post high-school education (we’re talking undergraduate and graduate here) was the Native Studies course I took in the second year of my undergraduate program. In this course, the wonderful professor whose name unfortunately escapes me after 24 years, was a Métis who excelled at storytelling. In fact, he was so amazing that I often found myself completely enraptured by what he was saying to the point where I frequently forgot that I was supposed to be taking notes.
The history of relationships among the First Nations people in Canada, the British and French explorers, traders, and settlers is very complex and is truly a mixture of the good, the bad, and the ugly. The impact of the colonization which occurred throughout the 1800’s and 1900’s is still evident among the First Nations people of Canada today. Prior to some of the more culturally devastating interactions, there were some well-established and mutually beneficial trading relationships between the First Nations people and the North West Trading Company, in particular. Moving between these two parties and often acting as interpreters and mediators were the “voyageurs”.
The voyageurs were French Canadians who became integrated into First Nations culture, often taking First Nations women as wives and producing children known as the Métis. The voyageurs were hired by the North West Trading Company (which latter merged with their rivals, The Hudson’s Bay Company) to ferry furs and trade items (e.g., blankets, alcohol, tobacco) using Canada’s vast and interconnected waterways between various First Nations tribes and trading posts scattered across the land.
In The Red Sash the reader is introduced to a voyageur’s young son in Fort William, near what is today Thunder Bay in Ontario, Canada. In the story, we get a glimpse into what was the life of the Métis living in a trading post in Canada circa early 1800’s. For example, we learn that families lived in wigwams and slept on warm bear hides. Life in the fort is described and depicted using many colourful and detailed images of blacksmiths and carpenters at work, the women churning butter and preparing hare for the rendezvous feast, and so much more.
But above all, what is so well done is the telling of the story of the voyageurs and what their role was in the fur trade. I also really appreciated how there was a sense of cultural pride associated with the symbol of the voyageur – “the red sash”. Further, there is information about how the fur trade worked, including the use of the birch tree canoes, the items which the North West Trading Company used to trade with the First Nations people, as well as the types of furs that were traded. At the back of the back, there is an information section describing the history of the North West Trading Company, the role of the voyageurs in the fur trade, and a few Ojibwa words as well. All in all, this book is excellent in introducing an important part of Canadian history to children.
To best illustrate how much there is to learn about the First Nations and Métis people of Canada as well as the history of the fur trade, I have asked my children to each come up with three things they learned after reading the book. Here is what they have to say:
1. I learned that the First Nations people hunted animals and traded furs with people from Europe (North West Company) for things like beads, blankets, pots, tobacco, and other things.
2. I learned that a Métis is a person with a First Nations Mom and a French Dad.
3. I learned that Fort Williams was the headquarters for the North West Trading Company and that it was close to Thunder Bay.
1. I learned some Ojibwa words like “Gitchee Gumee” which means Lake Superior and “makuk” which means a type of container.
2. I learned that a voyageur is a French person who helped to do the trade between the First Nations people and the North West Trading Company.
3. I learned that the beaver was the most important fur that was traded, but they also traded deer, fox, wolf, muskrat, mink, and buffalo furs too.
My Bottom Line: The Red Sash is an excellent picture book depicting the history of the fur trade in Canada and introducing children to the importance of the relationships among the First Nations and Métis people of Canada, the French Canadian voyageurs, and the British-based North West Trading Company. While these relationships were at often times tenuous, this story focuses on the cultural pride of the Métis people who played a key role in the fur trade of the 1800’s. I highly recommend this book as an excellent resource in elementary schools across Canada as a way to educate children about the fur trade industry and the important role of the voyageurs in Canadian history. Ages 5+
* This book was provided to me by the publisher free-of-charge as part of the Multicultural Children’s Book Day in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. *