Cover Image

Caribou Song by T. Highway

Highway, Tomson. Illus. John Rombough. Caribou Song. Markham, ON.: Fifth House, 2013. Print.

While Tomson Highway’s English text remains consistent with the 2001 publication of this title illustrated by Brian Deines, this new version has been translated into a colloquial dialect of Cree rather than the original high Cree. It has been revitalized by John Rombough, a Chipewyan Dene artist from the Northwest Territories. His stylistic and intensely coloured illustrations make this a very different viewing experience from that of the softer and more realistic illustrations by Deines. Rombough’s illustrations are infused with great energy, which is especially intriguing since the broad black lines contain only static shapes of colour layered on the variously tinted pages. There is magic here that is highly reminiscent of stain glass artistry and, like the stained glass pieces, engage the viewer into active participation in the storytelling experience.

The story, too, contains magic. Set in Northern Manitoba, the tale follows the adventures of two young brothers, Joe and Cody, who call the caribou with their accordion (kitoochigan) and singing. The caribou respond with great vigor, enabling the boys’ parents’ traditional hunt. There is much laughter between the boys but danger as well as the migrating animals enthusiastically stream between them. Thankfully the spirit voice of the caribou leads the boys to safety, much to the relief of their parents and the boys themselves.

Many years ago, when speaking with Tomson about the translation of the first edition he expressed sorrow that it was in the more formal Cree language; he felt that it was not the dialect that was easily accessible by the very people he wished to reach with this book. I hope this translation satisfies and ratifies this aspiration for those who read Cree. It certainly satisfies the artistic appreciation of this reviewer. The 2001 version was the first book in a trilogy about Joe, Cody, their family and the traditional culture and life of the Cree in Northern Manitoba. Is this edition also the first in a trilogy? One can always hope.

Highly recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Gail de Vos

Gail de Vos, an adjunct instructor, teaches courses on Canadian children's literature, Young Adult Literature and Comic Books and Graphic Novels at the School of Library and Information Studies for the University of Alberta and is the author of nine books on storytelling and folklore. She is a professional storyteller and has taught the storytelling course at SLIS for over two decades.