Retold by Roch Carrier; illustrated by Sheldon Cohen
Translated by Sheila Fischman
Margaret Atwood has characterized Canadian literature as ultimately about survival. This story, by Canada’s National Librarian and foremost folklorist, is a prime example of the human spirit soaring above that country’s harsh wilderness. The book retells a Quebecois legend about a magic canoe and some lonely woodsmen, including an 11-year-old boy, Baptiste, sent to do a man’s job in the desolate, frosty Ottowa woods on New Year’s Eve in 1847.
The loggers and Baptiste ache for home in faraway, tiny Le Beauce, too stoic to express their longings until they pull out an aboriginal canoe and take up the paddles. Baptiste is amazed and terrified to find himself airborne, unsure whether to praise God or blame the devil. When the men make a pit stop at a Quebec City tavern, Baptiste is left in the canoe with his fear, the biting cold, and his dreams – and soon struggles to fly solo, creating a compelling metaphor for a boy in a man’s place.
Cohen’s bold, broad lines and bright colors marries the competing French and native arts of that period, as if Toulouse-Latrec had spent time among the Cree.