________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 22. . . .February 13, 2015


The Old Ways.

Susan Margaret Chapman. Illustrated by John Mantha.
Markham, ON: Fifth House, 2014.
32 pp., hardcover & PDF, $19.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-92708-316-1 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-92708-380-2 (PDF).

Grades 2-6 / Ages 2-11.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

***1/2 /4



In the morning Simon watched his grandpa getting ready. Ataatga attached a sled to the snowmobile and loaded some big leather bags onto it. Simon heard the clanking of tools and knives from inside one of the bags. Then his grandpa added a large gas tank and a container of oil. Ananaksaq got the warm caribou parkas and put them on the sled. Finally, she brought out a box of food to take to Aunt Mary’s.

Ataatga piled some snowshoes on top, covered everything with caribou skins, and tied it all down.

“Why do we need all this, Ataatga?” Simon asked. “You said it won’t take us very long to get there.”

“You never know,” said his grandpa. “We have to be prepared for anything.”

Silly, thought Simon. Ataatga is still stuck in the old ways. Well, not me. Simon began dreaming of the new video game he wanted for his birthday.


The Old Ways is an authentic reminder of how the lifestyle and attitudes of Inuk youngsters today depart from those of the older generation. The author addresses the challenge of keeping cultural customs relevant through the character of Simon whose preferences for pizza, the computer, video games and TV overshadow his grandparents’ traditional food choices, storytelling and life skills. Simon scorns the huge pile of supplies they pack for a short winter trip. But when the snowmobile breaks down as a blizzard blows in, he realizes the life-saving value of knowledge learned from generations of living in a harsh land—building an igloo, cooking over a seal oil lamp, storytelling to pass the time, using snowshoes to hike for help. The text and illustrations combine to envelop the reader in a world both practical and magical as Simon begins to give due respect to his heritage.

     Told mainly from Simon’s viewpoint, the plot evokes immediate empathy for both the young and older characters. In his day-to-day life, Simon justly sees value in modern technology that will impact his future. His grandparents, though, wish to give him the wisdom of the past that they know will still have a place in his world. The story rings true as the predictable weather elements exert their power, and the family accepts that nature is in control. Simon experiences an array of emotions from impatience through fear to hopefulness and enthusiasm when he eagerly takes up the role of storyteller from his tired grandma.

     The language used is straightforward and simple especially early in the story, and easy to read aloud which suits the uncomplicated story line. But there’s missed opportunity with phrases like, “It was cold and blowing a bit”. Later the details become more complex, engaging our imagination when we hear that Simon “finally…slept, wrapped in dreams and caribou skins.” Likewise, the illustrations take on more depth as the plot unfolds and moves outside, to a setting we’ve only seen so far through a small window. The illustrator uses icy blues and whites for snow and sky, with tense scenes expanding right across both pages to the frozen horizon. However, the inside of the igloo glows with soft golden light and the warm brown of caribou skins. On one page, the text flows down the curved walls of the igloo while Simon’s dreamlike polar bears float through the scene, inducing a sense of peace, harmony and security.

     The Old Ways a gently told story creating no doubts in the reader’s mind that the “old ways” of the title will see the family through a crisis. When the modern world intrudes again in the rescue scene, we can also predict that Simon will be ready to appreciate their value. But like the “old ways”, this old tale is worth repeating.

Highly Recommended.

Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.

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

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.
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