- Yvette Moore (Illustrator) and Jo Bannatyne-Cugnet (Author)
Heartland: A Prairie Sampler. Tundra Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- allen Sapp (Illustrator) and David Bouchard (Author)
The Song Within My Heart. Raincoast Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
The genre of book which marries text and large, attractive images is a familiar one in the homes of privileged children. Such a book must often please two judges with rather different criteria, parent and child, as they sit side by side reading it. Both of the books under review here take up this challenge. They also share a point of origin, Saskatchewan.
Jo Bannatyne-Cugnet explains the subtitle of Heartland: A Prairie Sampler with a reference to a particular kind of needle- work sampler, whose embroidery unites several different pieces of fabric; "[e]arly settlers," she continues, "made sampler quilts . . . . Today, many families display with pride these treasured pieces made by their pioneer ancestors." One need not have read Alice Walker’s "Everyday Use" to get the message. This book is about the lived experience of heritage. It brings together topics from one kind of traditional prairie life — climate, agriculture, mining, play, "traditions and celebrations" — in a cheerful text, accompanied by meticulously detailed paintings in acrylic by Yvette Moore, who also illustrated Bannatyne-Cugnet’s successful A Prairie Alphabet (1992) and A Prairie Year (1994). The paintings’ concern to pick out every hair on a child’s head or every visible stem in a thousand-pound haybale not only amuses the young reader, whom they provide with many details to be discussed, but also gives them a quality of factual reportage. The text has something of the same strongly factual quality: here are weather statistics, a recipe for saskatoon pie, and instructions for wheat weaving.
But the tone is not didactic: it is idyllic, and little interrupts the idyll. To be sure, there is an acknowledgement that the slaughter of bison in the nineteenth century destroyed the way of life of the First Nations of the prairies ("soon they were confined to life on reserves," where, apart from a subsequent account of birch-bark biting as an art form, the story leaves them), and a slightly blunter admission that some animal species have become extinct "because we have not been good stewards." Bannatyne-Cugnet is a farmer herself, and tells us that now as in the past, "many a farmer goes to bed wondering if she or he can cover expenses." But cheerfulness keeps breaking in: it’s a pity about the "Natives" and the animals, and more money for farmers would be welcome, but what matters is really the hockey and the voices of the coyotes, the dramatic weather and the community potluck suppers. The main text ends with the reflection that "we thank our lucky stars we live on the Prairies, and wish on a falling star that others could have what we have."
Like Jo Bannatyne-Cugnet and Yvette Moore, Allen Sapp and David Bouchard both grew up in Saskatchewan. Like Heartland, their book is in large oblong format, with coloured reproductions of paintings facing a text about a traditional way of life. There the resemblance ceases. The Song within My Heart presents a selection of Allen Sapp’s renowned paintings of scenes from his childhood on the Red Pheasant reserve near North Battleford. Those reproduced here were executed at intervals over the last eighteen years, and each has its title, dimensions, and date given below it, as they might be in a book whose primary focus was Sapp’s art. This book, however, has a balanced double focus: on the title-page, the legend "Paintings by Allen Sapp" is above "Story by David Bouchard," but offset far to the right, so that the two appear equally promi- nent. Bouchard’s facing text, a poem in loose four- or six-line stanzas, unifies Sapp’s pictures into a simple story.
This text begins with a call to its audience, which opens "Listen to the beating drum / It tells a hundred stories / Of our people, of our homeland / Some of birds and beasts and sweet grass." The periodic appearance of lines in the Hiawatha metre raises several questions. Nor is it the only puzzle here, for the referent of our is unclear: does the young Canadian of non-First Nations ancestry share in the our of "our homeland" but not in that of "our people"? These uncertainties, particularly the sense of possibly not belonging to what’s going on in the text, work well with Allen Sapp’s paintings, which characteristically show the purposeful, mysterious lives of adults from the perspective of a child partially excluded from what is happening. Faces are often averted or blurry, significant actions are decipherable only from captions. This is not the sharply lit, uncomplex world of Heartland.
Bouchard’s story moves into the narrative voice of a First Nations boy who hears the drums starting up for a pow-wow and asks his Nokum (his grandmother) to explain what the drumbeats mean. (Sapp’s grandmother helped to bring him up, and a number of his paintings of her are reproduced here.) The answer is that they tell stories, as do the songs which go with them: "Your stories, songs and beating heart / Are truly yours and yours alone." This point is made at some length, embellished with a sort of backing track — "HI hey hey hey HEY hey hey! BOOM boom boom boom BOOM boom boom boom" — printed with pleasing irregularity, and in grey ink. Sometimes the text is just as idealistic as that of Heartland: "So much of what the drummer feels / Is clear with every beat you hear. / He bares it all, he cannot hide./ He’s sharing what he is inside."
Of the two present reviewers, the older had reservations about Bouchard’s text for The Song within My Heart, but admired the book as a whole: Sapp’s pictures are very powerful, and the text and the design of the book bring them together to good effect. The younger had examined both Heartland and The Song within My Heart repeatedly and carefully while this review was in preparation; offered one or the other as a bedtime story just before the review was completed, he chose the latter without hesitation.
- Words and Worlds by Aaron Giovannone
Books reviewed: After the 6ix O'Clock News by Kemeny Babineau, Imaginary Maps by Darrell Epp, Other People's Lives by Chris Hutchinson, and Passenger Flight by Brian Campbell
- Language Movements by Aaron Giovannone
Books reviewed: Rental Van by Clint Burnham, yes / no by Dennis Lee, Expressway by Sina Queyras, and Mosaic Orpheus by Peter Dale Scott
- Selected and Sanctified by Barbara Pell
Books reviewed: Between the Temple and the Cave: The Religious Dimensions of the Poetry of E.J. Pratt by Angela T. McAuliffe and E.J. Pratt: Selected Poems by Sandra Djwa, W. J. Keith, Zailig Pollock, and E. J. Pratt
- Bloodlines, Stories, and Invented Identities by Cheryl Suzack
Books reviewed: Native Poetry in Canada: A Contemporary Anthology by Jeannette C. Armstrong and Lally Grauer and Skins: Contemporary Indigenous Writing by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm and Josie Douglas
- The Daring Wager by Linda Quirk
Books reviewed: Wider Boundaries of Daring: The Modernist Impulse in Canadian Women's Poetry by Di Brandt and Barbara Godard and My Beloved Wager: Essays from a Writing Practice by Smaro Kamboureli and Erín Moure
MLA: Brown-Considine, Nicholas and Considine, John. Two Saskatchewans. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #181 (Summer 2004), (Wiseman, Livesay, Sime, Connelly, Robinson). (pg. 104 - 105)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.