The Red Sash
Illustrated by: Nicolas Debon
Published by: A Groundwood Book House of Anansi Press, Toronto. 2005
Ages: 5 – 8 years
Theme: historical fiction, courage, strength, multicultural
Opening Sentences: The sun is rising over Nanabijou, who lies sleeping on the great sea Gitchee Gumee. My sister Isabelle and I wake up. I can see Mother through the entrance of our wigwam.
Synopsis: From the front flap – It is rendezvous, when the fabled voyageurs who spend the winter in the vast North American wilderness come back to the trading post of Fort William, at the head of the Great Lakes. The voyageurs are loaded down with the precious furs that they have obtained from the native people. At the same time canoes arrive from Montreal carrying representatives from the North West Company. They bring fresh trading supplies for the voyageurs to take on their next journey. And then they will transport the packs of furs back to Montreal to be shipped to England. For those who gather at Fort William, Rendeavous is a time of feasting and dancing and of telling stories around the campfire.
A young Metis boy and his family living near Fort William are helping to prepare for a feast in the Great hall. When the chores are done, the children canoe to a nearby island to hunt hare. But a storm begins to brew. Through the rain and churning waves a canoe carrying a gentleman from the North West Company appears, heading toward the island for shelter. The boy helps land the canoe, which has been badly torn by rocks and waves, and then realizes that he is the one who can save the day.
British North America in the early 1800s was built around the trade in furs, which would not have been possible without the native trappers and hunters and the brave voyageurs who travelled through the immense, then unknown wilderness in brutal winter conditions. Vivid and historically accurate illustrations give an authentic picture of life at this busy fur-trading post.
What I liked: Well, there is so much to like about this. Firstly it’s historical fiction and multicultural. A little longer than normal picture book at 40 pages I loved learning about the Canadian fur-traders and the area they lived in, weathering the hardships and how people relied on family, friends and each other for survival and way of life. From the first few sentences one feels they are in another world, the smell of breakfast cooking, it is the middle of winter and the way of life is not as I know it. I learned a great deal about the history of the fur-traders and many unusual words, even the original name of Lake Superior. The illustrations are beautifully rich giving depth to the story, from the wild storm to the crowd gathering for the festival of the rendezvous. Cleverly wrapped in an adventure story from a young boys view of getting caught in a storm, helping a trader and earning his red sash. Kids young and old will love this.
Resources/Findings: I couldn’t find any resources or other links for this book. A resource in its self, the book has a map in the front and back pages along with back story in history of the fur-traders. There is also a glossary.
When I checked out what I could find on google, I was surprised to learn quite a bit. Some interesting facts about the Canadian fur-traders for use in class studies …. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/fur-trade/
Along with museums here is another link of the fur-trade… http://www.whiteoak.org/historical-library/fur-trade/time-line-a-brief-history-of-the-fur-trade/
More interesting facts for kids…. http://firstpeoplesofcanada.com/fp_furtrade/fp_furtrade2.html
Great link here for school study…. http://bccurriculum.pbworks.com/w/page/30171407/Canada%3A%20%20Fur%20Trade
Pop over and visit the lovely author Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and find the tab for Perfect Picture Books. Her blog is full of resources links and activities associated with the books reviewed by many authors.