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Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Old Ways, written by Susan Margaret Chapman and illustrated by John Mantha. Fifth House, Fitzhenry and Whiteside. 2014. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"In the morning Simon watched his grandpa getting ready. Ataatga attached a sled to the snowmobile and loaded some big leather bags onto it. Simon heard the clanking of tools and knives from inside one of the bags. Then his grandpa added a large gas tank and a container of oil. Ananaksaq got the warm caribou parkas and put them on the sled."

Simon returns from his day at school to regale his grandmother with stories of using computers and watching movies. When his grandma wants to share an old tale about Sedna, Simon runs to watch one of his favorite television shows. Then, it's homework that needs to be done.

While Simon is busy with that, his grandfather returns and invites Simon to come outside and learn to build an igloo. Simon sees no purpose in the old ways. He would rather play video games. Ataatga is disappointed. Then, he reminds Simon that they will be taking a snowmobile ride to Igloolik to celebrate Aunt Mary's birthday.

In the morning, Ataatga carefully prepares for their journey. Simon wonders why so much work. His grandfather replies that they should be prepared for anything when they venture out onto the land. Simon thinks once again that too much time is given to the old ways. As you might have suspected by now, there are going to be some difficulties associated with the trip. The first is open water which means they must take a new and longer route. The next is a snowmobile breakdown. It is a blustery
day. Soon a blizzard is raging. Ataatga is concerned. The stored caribou skins will keep Simon and Ananaksaq warm while he builds an igloo. Once they are safe and warm in its enclosed space, there is time to cook food, and to tell stories.

In the morning, there is no sign of rescue. Grandpa makes the decision to walk the twenty kilometres to find help. Simon is afraid. But, he stays with his grandma as Ataatga sets out on his snowshoes. All day he and his grandmother share stories as they try to ignore their hunger and their concern for Ataatga.  Just as the sun is setting, they hear the hum of snowmobiles ... they are rescued!

This is a story that could preach its message to young readers. Instead, it creates a world that values both the old and the new. There are benefits to both. After their trip Simon can see that respecting one's heritage has value, and knowing how to be safe in a harsh environment is vitally important. 

John Mantha's artwork shares a world that few readers will have experienced. Warmth of family love is evident, as is the power of nature to threaten life. His use of warm colors for the interior scenes contrast sharply with the cool colors that show the drama of the approaching storm. These images add context and depth to a story well told.

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