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Boy of the Deeps

by Ian Wallace

Ian Wallace’s latest picture book is a tribute to the men who go underground, earning their living as coal miners. It is also a reminder of a time, not so long ago, when children left school at an early age for hard and often perilous work.

The story follows James, an adolescent boy in Cape Breton in the early part of the century, on his first day underground. Wallace conveys a sense of community among the miners, united by both the danger of their work and their dependence on it. As James enters the mine, Wallace leaves the golden hues of morning behind, and plunges a thousand feet beneath the ground into a darkness full of rodents, crumbling walls, and poisonous gases. Wallace is one of the few children’s book illustrators unafraid to let sombre colours dominate. (A previous book, Hansel and Gretel,/I>, is equally dark and beautiful.) A certain stillness characterizes these illustrations, due in part to the oppressive darkness of the colours and the grainy texture Wallace employs. The pictures are like snapshots, capturing moments throughout the day: a horse straining to pull a load, the men bent over their work.

Boy of the Deeps follows a traditional narrative; it evolves chronologically, building toward a frightening climax in which layers of rock shift overhead, snapping the timber supports, and the ceiling gives way, trapping father and son. Interestingly, it is not the rescue that resolves the story. Wallace’s matter-of-factness about the cave-in suggests that the incident, although dramatic, is typical of lives spent underground. He concludes, “Tomorrow they would go down into the deeps again, for they were miners and that was their job.”

Wallace’s latest work will appeal to more serious children, and anyone who appreciates that rare combination of fine writing and illustration.


Reviewer: Hadley Dyer

Publisher: Groundwood Books


Price: $16.95

Page Count: 40 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-7894-2569-6

Released: Mar.

Issue Date: 1999-3

Categories: Children and YA Non-fiction, Picture Books

Age Range: ages 5–8