CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 37. . . .May 29, 2015
After Catherine’s struggle to become a female blacksmith, which was chronicled in Chambers’ The Blacksmith’s Apprentice, she has reached her goal of being the village blacksmith in King’s Town. One day, a young Aboriginal man named Danny enters her smithy and asks to be her apprentice. He is keen to learn and take his skills back to his people of the Mohawk nation. Catherine agrees to take Danny on. Danny learns that it is hard work to be a blacksmith, but he persists and arrives early each day to learn more about blacksmithing. One night, there is a strong wind that breaks the town’s weathervane, and Danny volunteers to climb the tower to fix it, despite the tower’s being very high and his apprenticeship being not quite over. It will take all of Danny’s skills and courage to complete this task, but is he up for the challenge?
Danny’s Challenge was a difficult book to review. Chambers first book, The Blacksmith’s Apprentice, chronicled a girl’s decision to enter a male-dominated profession, but this follow-up seemed to recycle the same plotline, only this time starring an Aboriginal man learning the skills of a blacksmith. The plot lacked conflict. Even the climax of the book was lackluster and spanned only two pages. When Danny climbs the tower to fix the weathervane, there was no moment where the reader questioned whether the work will get done. There was no tension throughout the book, particularly in the big moment of the story where it really needed something. The repetition of the sounds of the blacksmith’s hammer (“a ring, ring, ping, ping”) worked in the first book, but, in this story, it felt overdone. As for the characters, neither Catherine nor Danny were given any particular characteristics to make them interesting or engaging. The only character traits that distinguished them were her gender and his race. The illustrations didn’t help matters either. Because both characters wear long braids in their hair and have blacksmith aprons on, they looked the same. The brown and gold two-toned illustrations were meant to reflect the warm fires of the forge, but, instead, they made it hard to engage with the characters and story since the entire book is monochromatic.
On a subject note, I have no authority to speak on the general theme of the book, so take the next comments with a huge grain of salt, but it felt strange to me to focus the story around an Aboriginal man learning a traditional colonialist trade. I had concerns over the overtones of the story; it seemed to be continuing a colonialist narrative that we’re trying to shift away from. A short blurb on the Mohawk Nation and the history of ironwork is included at the end of the book with a suggestion to head to the Smithsonian Institute website to learn more about how Mohawk ironworkers helped raise New York City.
I can’t imagine that there are many children who would be drawn to picking up this book, and The Blacksmith’s Apprentice is a much stronger choice for a teaching tool.
Stacey Matson is a writer and literacy programmer living in Vancouver. She recently finished her MA in children’s literature at the University of British Columbia and her first children’s novel, A Year in the Life of a Total and Complete Genius, came out in September 2014.
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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.