________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV . . . . August 31, 2007


Marja’s Skis.

Jean E. Pendziwol. Illustrated by Jirina Marton.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi Press, 2007.
32 pp., cloth, $17.95.
ISBN 978-0-88899-674-9.

Subject Heading:
Finnish Canadians-Juvenile fiction.

Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.

Review by Tanya Boudreau.

*** /4

Reviewed from f&g’s.


Sometimes Marja would sit beside Mother and watch her milk the cow. She loved being in the barn, smelling the sweetness of the hay mingled with the heat of the animals. Mother would make her drink milk, warm from the cow. She didn’t like milk warm from the cow, but Mother said it would help her to grow strong. So she drank and waited.

Seven-year-old Marja skis to school. Homemade skis and a pair of nail-tipped poles take her a great distance. On her way to school, she passes Brule Creek and Kivipelto’s field. While at school, she learns English, writing and math. But it’s after school she really looks forward to. She loves the ski ride home. With the arrival of spring, the trip home suddenly has new sights and smells. She can see freshly made animal tracks in the snow and it’s this sight that makes her take a different route home. While following her new path home, she sees someone in desperate need of rescuing. Remembering her dad’s voice, and believing what he always told her about strength, Marja finds a way to help.

     Before turning seven, Marja felt a little cheated. She wasn’t allowed to milk the cows or tend the horses like her big sister Eeva. No one thought Marja was strong enough yet! When she turned seven, her dad decided Marja was ready for school. Marja’s mom was hesitant about sending Marja, but her dad insisted. Marja’s mom and dad have conflicting ideas about where strength comes from, and this resulted in their differing opinions about Marja’s schooling. However, by the end of Marja’s story, it’s her father’s words that become a reality for her.

internal art

     Jirina Marton’s full page illustrations are set in a winter wilderness. The colors are subdued by the darkness in the rooms. The light that is cast into the rooms comes from the sunlight shining through the windows and from the lanterns hanging from the ceilings. The outdoor scenes are brightened with rosy cheeks and Marja’s red hat and mittens. The illustrations have layers of colors, and a range of smudged effects. The pictures remind me of old paintings hanging in a museum.

     The illustrations in Marja’s Skis were rendered in oil pastels. Jirina Marton studied art in Prague and lives in Ontario. Her illustrations can also be found in Little Book of Northern Tales: The Bear Says North, and Arctic Adventures: Tales from the Lives of Inuit Artists.

     Jean E. Pendziwol is the author of Dawn Watch and The Red Sash. Her husband’s grandmother used to tell her stories about growing up in Ontario in a Finnish farming and logging community. This is what inspired Jean to write Marja’s Skis. On the last page of this book, the author includes a one page history of the time, and there is a small glossary which includes such words as mojakka, and pulla.

     Marja’s story comes from a time when the Finnish were settling in the Great Lakes region. Their work and culture are incorporated into Marja’s Skis. The logging industry relied on big working horses, frozen ice roads, sturdy sleighs, and rushing rivers. Logging accidents were a reality. The Nordic country introduced cross-country skiing and saunas to the north woods, and these are both referred to in this book.


Tanya Boudreau is a Youth Services Librarian and Resource Librarian at the Cold Lake Public in Library Cold Lake, AB.

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

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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