CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Bonnie Shemie.
Montréal, PQ: Tundra Books, 1989.
24pp., cloth, $12.95.
ISBN 0-88776-240-9. CIP.

Subject Headings:
Inuit-Canada-Dwellings-Juvenile literature.
Igloos-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11

Reviewed by Joan Skogan.

Volume 17 Number 6
1989 November

Houses of Snow, Skin and Bones is the first title in Tundra's planned series of books on architecture for children. Architectural artist Bonnie Shemie describes and illustrates four types of Arctic homes: the igluvigak or snowblock house; the quarmang, with stone foundations and a whalebone frame; the sod house; and the tent used in summer by all far northern peoples.

The artist's use of soft tones and family-life detail in the four double-page colour pictures is effective, as are her grey-and-white drawings of tools and construction methods.

The structure for the presentation of information about the northern dwellings is sometimes confusing and the text is occasionally awkward. The book's beginning references to "the severest climate on earth" are not consistently continued as a clear theme to connect the four very different home designs. The final paragraphs mentioning current concerns about environmental pollution in the Arctic seem oddly disconnected to the rest of the book.

The back cover and front notes of Houses of Snow, Skin and Bones emphasize the "over a year" that was spent researching this book. Too much of this time must have been taken up producing the pictures and not enough in revising sentences like, "A small snow house for emergency overnight shelter can be built in as little as an hour by two hunters caught in a storm or by one hunter in two hours," or in discovering that "Inuit" means "the people" - "The Eskimo (or Inuit, as he calls himself)...". The text also contains a number of unattributed and seemingly unneccessary quotes: "The snow house for all its simplicity has been called 'the most sophisticated of native dwellings' representing 'the most complete union of human beings with the environment'."

Despite these flaws, which could have been eliminated in a brisk editorial skim-through, Houses of Snow, Skin and Bones contains enough fascinating information (such as the fact that snow houses must be built from blocks taken during a single snowfall) and fine illustrations to guarantee it a place in elementary school libraries. Canadian teachers may wish to use the end-maps, which include a portion of the Soviet Arctic as well as Greenland, to emphasize the connections between all Arctic peoples, as Alaskan teachers are currently doing.

Joan Skogan, Vancouver, BC.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works