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The Flying Canoe    by Roch Carrier & Sheldon Cohen order for
Flying Canoe
by Roch Carrier
Order:  USA  Can
Tundra, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is a re-telling by Roch Carrier (translated from the French by Sheila Fischman) of the classic French Canadian holiday folktale, The Flying Canoe. Sheldon Cohen's bright and joyous illustrations bring us back to years gone by. The tale begins with kids clustered around grandma in a rocking chair. She holds up a cutout canoe and tells them 'Crick, crack, crock, youngsters. Tellee, tello, tellum. Now listen hard ...'

In the early days of Canada, 'Rivers were the roads.' Men worked in logging camps in remote forests, to cut wood needed for building settlements. The lumberjacks stayed there till the ice melted in the spring. It was eleven-year-old Baptiste's first year at logging camp. Though proud to be able to earn money to help his poor family, he was homesick. On New Year's Eve, logger Tom Caribou invites the others outside 'for a walk'. Baptiste joins them in his knitted tuque and his father's coonskin coat. Why does Caribou pull out a birch bark canoe and hand out paddles? The rivers are frozen! They all get in, Tom says magic words - 'Acabree, acabra, acabram, / Canoe, take us over the mountains!' - and soon the canoe is 'drifting in a lake of stars.'

Though Baptiste is afraid, 'a boy has to mix with men if he wants to learn what men know'. The 'chasse-galerie' flies over Montreal and the Notre-Dame church. They paddle through a snowstorm, thinking of those they love; they stop in Quebec City and the men go for a drink ... time passes. Eventually, Baptiste continues on his own to the Beauce, where the chimneysmoke smells of maple, and crash lands into the midst of his family. The Flying Canoe is a beautifully executed retelling of the Canadian classic, one to treasure and to re-read together every New Year's Eve ... 'Tellee, tello, tellum.'

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