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The Red Sash

by Jean E. Pendziwol; Nicolas Debon, illus.

The writer and illustrator behind Dawn Watch, a picture book about a contemporary father-daughter sailboat outing on Lake Superior, are back with another adventure on the lake. This time it’s a historical one – it involves a Métis boy, a canoe, and a storm rescue.

Jean Pendziwol, who has been a historical re-enactor at Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario, parlays her experience into this educational story. As voyageurs return in 1815 from western fur trading to Fort William, for the annual rendezvous with the North West Company’s directors, a young unnamed boy describes the day his father returns home. Eager for adventure and anxious to follow his father, the boy earns his way to the coveted red voyageur sash when he helps rescue and then safely deliver a director to the fort.

Like Pendziwol’s other titles, this one has an educational purpose, which is to describe an exciting day at the fort through a child’s eyes. Through Nicolas Debon’s gouache and mixed-media illustrations, readers will indeed gain a sense of the look and feel of a 19th-century Canadian fur trading post. While the earth, sky, water, and weather images are striking, it’s unfortunate that two of the illustrations are at odds with the text (the story describes two people pushing a canoe, for example, but the illustration shows three people doing it).

Adding value to this book are a helpful map on the endpapers, a small multilingual (French, Ojibway, and English) glossary, and an information note about old Fort William and the North West Company. A satisfactory picture book, The Red Sash is also a welcome curriculum resource and a surefire bestseller for the Fort William Historical Park gift shop and Thunder Bay bookstores.