CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 36. . . .May 22, 2015
Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event.
New York, NY: Farrar Straus Giroux Books (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2015.
32 pp., hardcover, $20.50.
Preschool-grade 5 / Ages 4-10.
Review by Aileen Wortley.
The second floor had rooms for travelers passing through and outdoor sportsmen who would stay for a few days to fish or hunt. Antonio liked to peek into these rooms when the doors were open. Even though they had warm dry beds and woolen blankets like his own, these rooms were much more interesting. They also had the guests’ canvas travel bags with many pockets, nets and poles for fishing and sometimes even guns. But the top floor was Antonio’s favorite---one great room lined with rows of bunk beds. It was here where the men who worked in the forest - trappers, lumberjacks, and silver miners - lived for months at a time. Here it smelled wonderful-of sweet tobacco and wood, wool and leather and sweat. Here Antonio could listen to French and English and Native American languages, sometimes all spoken at once.
Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event relates an incident experienced by the author’s grandfather when he was four-years-old. Antonio lived in the remote Northern Ontario town of Gowganda. There, his mother ran a hotel to accommodate travellers, sportsmen and workers, such as lumberjacks, miners, and trappers. With no other children to play with, Antonio is happily occupied with the companionship of hotel workers and visitors. But in the hot dry summer of 1914, fire breaks out in the hills and rages towards them. As word spreads, the whole community rushes to find refuge in Gowganda Lake. In a heart-stopping moment, they are suddenly joined by hundreds of animals also driven from their habitats and seeking safety. Together, they stand silently in the water, all natural enmities suspended while they wait for the fire to abate. After what seems a very long time to a little boy, it was safe to return home to find the hotel surprisingly undamaged.
This is obviously a beloved story handed down from over a hundred years ago, and the event is so amazing that one wonders if, over the years, it has become embellished! Whether or not this is so, the book, told in all its simplicity and enhanced by alluring illustrations, is lovely.
The visual appeal of the book and layout is highly effective. Every illustration is a two-page spread, created using pen and ink drawings combined with water-wash. The dark or sepia tones evoke a sense of the era. The detail in these is remarkable, showing Antonio helping out with the chores, communal suppers at the hotel, Antonio peeking into guest bedrooms and his own little room “off the kitchen that had once been a pantry”. The outside scenes reveal a forest that is dark and dense and a fire dramatic in its rage. The stylized, static people going about their lives, realistic animals and rich whimsy encourage the reader to pore over the pictures with satisfaction. The end-pages carry realistic pictures of animals indigenous to the area.
With just one paragraph per page, the direct, almost matter-of fact telling, rich with detail of life in a hotel back at the beginning of the last century, compels the reader forward and highlights the magical moment when humans and animals come together in their common need to survive.
Out of the Woods is an experience not to be missed.
Aileen Wortley is a retired librarian from Toronto, ON.
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