________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 16 . . . . April 15, 2005


C is for Chinook: An Alberta Alphabet.

Dawn Welykochy. Illustrated by Lorna Bennett.
Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press, 2004.
38 pp., cloth, $24.95.
ISBN 1-58536-223-9.

Subject Headings:
Alberta-Juvenile literature.
English language-Alphabet-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-8 / Ages 8-13.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

**** /4


P is for Petroglyph rock art,
carved with antlers of bone.
And P is for Pictographs,
painted with iron ore stone.

Writing on Stone Provincial Park near Milk River has the greatest concentration of rock art in North America. Painted rocks are called pictographs, and petroglyphs are rock carvings made with the use of antlers or bone. In later years metal tools were used. Red ochre was used for paint by crushing iron ore and mixing it with water and animal grease. Charcoal was also used to draw pictures. The petroglyphs and pictographs, both created on rocky landforms, vary from 100 to 500 years old.

Shoshoni, Gros Ventre, and later Blackfoot believed powerful spirits inhabited this area. Buffalo hunters often returned to the site for spiritual guidance.

P is also for petrified wood., Alberta’s provincial stone. This fossil formed when minerals in water infiltrated wood, replacing the organic matter (wood) with mineral deposits. The same structure is left behind and the stone looks like the original piece of wood.

Those familiar with the themed alphabet books produced by Sleeping Bear Press, such as Z is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet or H is for Horse: An Equestrian Alphabet, will recognize the familiar format of C is for Chinook which incorporates illustrations and a two part text. As shown in the excerpt above, each letter is represented via a four line poem, and then the content of that poem is expanded upon in one or more paragraphs of sidebar expository text. As well, this text can go beyond the poem’s focus and include other letter related content. For example, W’s poem is about the Alberta’s provincial flower, the Wild Rose, and the first paragraph of the expository text does deal with the flower. However, the second paragraph speaks to wheat and other grains while the focus of the third paragraph is Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada’s largest national park.


internal art

     Like the earlier books, each pair of facing pages is devoted to a single letter of the alphabet, or each page in a pair of facing pages is given over to a single letter. Not an alphabet book in the traditional sense of the book's having as its primary purpose the teaching of the letters of the alphabet to preschoolers, the work does, nevertheless, show each letter in its upper and lower case forms. As the book's subtitle, An Alberta Alphabet, indicates, the volume's text and illustrations focus on the province of Alberta, including aspects of Alberta’s history (Anthony Hendy, Emily Murphy and the rest of Alberta’s Famous Five, dinosaurs), the province’s animals (Bighorn sheep, Great horned owl), places (Calgary’s Heritage Park, the Columbia ice fields, Lake Louise, Vegreville’s Pysanka), events (Edmonton’s Klondike Days, Calgary’s Stampede). And, yes, the West Edmonton Mall is mentioned as are the Oilers, but not the Flames. Most of the Alberta examples utilized for the letters are quite obvious, such a “Oil” for the letter O or Hoodoos for H, but occasionally author Welykochy has had to stretch a bit, and so “N is for First Nations,” “Quartzite” is used for that difficult Q, and the historic Bar U Ranch “covers” U. The letters X, Y and Z are always troublesome in themed alphabet books, but Welykochy solves them with railway crossings linked to immigrants brought by train; the Calgary area’s Young Canadians and the Calgary Zoo. Readers will also learn that Alberta has no need of a Pied Piper as, in part, “R is for ratless Alberta.” Welykochy’s brief but informative text will undoubtedly cause some readers to seek out more detailed information in other sources. For those desirous to test how much they learned about Alberta by reading C is for Chinook, the book’s closing pages provide a 24 question quiz (with an answer key).

     Author Dawn Welykochy grew up in Calgary and now lives on a ranch in southern Alberta while the illustrator, Lorna Bennett, is “a born and bred Albertan” who resides in Edmonton. Whether spilling over a double page spread or confined to a single page, Bennett's full colour illustrations, such as that of the bull rider at the Calgary Stampede, can be filled with exuberant action or, as with the Wild Rose, convey a quiet softness. Her illustrations also capture the seasons as well as the province’s various landscapes, including its flat and rolling terrain and its mountains and their ice fields.

     While the picture book format of C is for Chinook may cause the book to be erroneously assigned to the children's section of libraries, this sophisticated picture book will appeal to teens and adults as well as to students in the mid to later elementary grades.

Highly Recommended.

Dave Jenkinson, a one time Albertan, teaches courses in children's and adolescent literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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