CM Archive
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Bonnie Shemie.
Montreal, PQ: Tundra Books, 1990.
24pp., cloth, $12.95.
ISBN 0-88776-246-8. (Native Dwellings: Woodland Indians). CIP.

Subject Heading:
Woodland Indians-Dwellings-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13

Reviewed by Patricia Fry.

Volume 19 Number 1
1991 January

The book opens to the following scene: "In the afternoon twilight of a northern Canadian forest, far from other small Indian bands, two mothers and three small children are rushing to build a shelter." A succinct step-by-step description follows of the group quickly constructing a snug tipi of bark which shelters them from the wind and snow. The reader is then informed that this scenario was common in the woodlands of northeastern Canada as recently as a hundred years ago. This description, like the rest of the book, brings to life the ways of native people years ago while providing meticulous detail about exactly how things were done - in this case, how shelters of bark were constructed.

Throughout the forests of North America, bark was indispensable to the everyday life of our native peoples. Simple to cut, light to carry, easy to work with, it was used for food, containers, clothing and canoes as well as for various types of shelters. Although there were many sizes and styles of bark dwellings, three main types emerge: the tipi, the wigwam and the longhouse. How all of these were constructed is made clear in Shemie's detailed drawings and made humanly relevant in the double-page colour illustrations.

Shemie is that rare combination of writer/artist who is equally dedicated to intensive research and to art. Her architectural paintings were selling as fine art in Montreal galleries before she undertook a series on the history of native dwellings. A check of the credits for Houses of Bark indicates that they range from museums and libraries to consultations with scholars. In this, her second book, she provides the same detail and information that made Houses of Snow, Skin and Bones ¹, such a valuable account of shelters in the Far North. Her third book, Houses of Hides will describe the dwellings of the Plains Indians.

Indians of North America are studied as part of the social studies programs in various grade levels. This book can be used over a wide grade range because of its appealing format, which nevertheless contains detailed information. There are fifteen black-and-white illustrations as well as six colour double-page pictures. Also, because the books are also published in French, a French Immersion school might want to consider both language editions.

Highly recommended.

Patricia Fry, Port Credit, ON.

¹ Reviewed vol. XVII/6 November 1989, p. 265.

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