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Ted Harrison.
Toronto, ON: Macmillan, 1989.
32pp., cloth, $16.95.
ISBN 0-7715-92884. CIP.

Grades 3-8 / Ages 8-13

Reviewed by Margaret Montgomery.

Volume 17 Number 4
1989 July

The Blue Raven is an original story based on myth and fable of the Athapaskan Indians of the Yukon River.

There are eight full-page illustrations in Harrison's vibrant colours and deceptively simple shapes. In addition, there are borders on six pages, two double-page spreads, and two smaller illustrations. The huge blue raven, the sweeping contours of the landscapes, and the static human and animal figures will make an impression on all.

The main character is Nik, an Indian boy who goes on a quest, survives his "rites of passage" and returns to lead his tribe wisely and well. There is a drought in the north, and after a particularly cold, hard winter, Nik sets off with only one pack dog to find the Great Shaman and ask for his advice and help. His journey lasts for weeks as he goes over mountains and across the tundra, undergoing hardships and hunger. At last the Blue Raven finds him and leads him to the Shaman, who gives Nik a cloak and mukluks and words of praise and advice.

Nik returns home the easy way, wafted there by large ravens. Somehow he manages to inspire his people to greater effort and a better life. There is no magic in the cloak or the mukluks - they seem to serve as symbols of Nik's special efforts to help his people. Somehow this ending is anticlimactic, even though it is more true to real life than the various magical possibilities.

The language of the story is occasionally ponderous, but I liken it to the slow, deep movement of a mighty river. It may be that Harrison has heard native elders telling their stories so often that the rhythm of their speech is being repeated here.

On the Fry graph, the reading level works out to grade 8 because there are long sentences and some difficult vocabulary.

Margaret Montgomery, West Vernon Elementary School, Vernon, BC.
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