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Ferguson Plain
Winnipeg, Pemmican Publications, 1993. 32pp, paper, $9.95
ISBN 0-921827-34-2. CIP.

Pre-school to Grade 3/Ages 3 to 8

Reviewed by Patricia Fry.

Volume 21 Number 5
1993 October

This is the story of Amikoonse, a little beaver who leaves one home and finds another where he truly belongs. The illustrations are an integral part of this book; in fact, they tell the story more effectively than the words.

It should be noted that some background information on the various symbols as well as the ceremonial use of sweetgrass and an eagle feather used to bless Amikoonse's journey would enhance the story for readers unfam­iliar with native culture and customs. Many young readers like guessing at the meaning of the native words used and enjoy the glossary with the definitions at the back of the book.

There are fifteen illustrations in all, on each of the right-hand pages opposite the text. They emerge from the grey pages surrounded by a jagged edge, similar to the edge on a piece of birch-bark. The back­ground colours are shades of orange, red and green with the animal and human figures in white relief and the spirit-shadows or symbols sketched lightly in black.

Most readers focus immediately on the symbols in the illustrations, especially the recurring one of the circle-shape with the feathers that might be a dream-catcher or some other "guardian" symbol. The various animal shadow-shapes are equally fascinat­ing. Is Amikoonse being lured to the natural world by them?

The reader learns on the first page that "Amikoonse and the little boy were great friends" who were always together. But by the second page, during a routine visit to the boy's grandfather, Amikoonse decides to explore the woods by himself and so he slips away unnoticed by his lifelong friend.

Soon he realizes he is lost and the next morning a bird asks him why he's not "in a lodge where you belong." This is news to Amikoonse who, until now, thought he belonged in a house. So he sets off to find "the big puddle of water" where, according to the bird, there is a lodge. The little beaver travels for three months and, during that time, learns a lot about nature. Finally, he finds the big puddle of water and the lodge with "many animals who looked like him." With a tear trickling from his eye, he realizes "I'm not lost, I'm home now." There is never another mention of the little boy or of his friendship with Amikoonse and that's a problem for some young readers.

Ferguson Plain is an Ojibwa artist, writer and story-teller who lives and teaches in London, Ontario. Previous books by him include Eagle Feather (Pemmican Publications 1989) and Little White Cabin (Pemmican Publications, 1992).

Recommended (with reservations noted). Good potential for use in an art class at any level.

Patricia Fry is a teacher-librarian with the Peel Board of Education in Mississauga, Ontario.
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