________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 4 . . . . September 26, 2014


Soapstone Signs. (Orca Echoes).

Jeff Pinkney. Illustrated by Darlene Gait.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2014.
48 pp., pbk., pdf & epub, $6.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0400-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0401-2 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0402-9 (epub).

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Jennifer Baetz.


Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


That night I dream of the bear cub that comes to the garbage pails out back, and I wake up very excited. I wonder if that counts as a sign.

When I join Lindy on the riverbank, I tell him about my dream. He nods, then hands me a rasp file. “You’d better carve that bear cub out of there.”

“Will my signs always come in dreams?” I say.

“Not always, but sometimes.”

“Where else will I get my signs?”

“Everywhere, from everything. Stay open to the world around you. You will learn to understand your signs.”



Every spring, a nine-year-old Cree boy and his family are visited by a soapstone carver named Lindy. This particular spring is special as Lindy gives the boy a marvellous gift: four pieces of soapstone to carve. The boy is unsure of what to carve, and Lindy tells him he must pay attention to the signs he is given as they will tell him what form already exists in the stone and is waiting to be carved. Lindy soon carries on with his journey, and the boy is left to listen and watch for the signs that will come to him as he hones his skills.

     As the seasons change, the boy embarks on several life experiences, such as being invited to camp with his mother in the summer and taking part in the hunt in the autumn, that indicate he is growing older. As he accepts these new challenges thoughtfully and with patience, he also waits patiently for nature to reveal the signs to him so he can carve his soapstone pieces.

     Soapstone Signs is an “Orca Echoes” selection, written by emerging writer Jeff Pinkney based on his experiences in Canada’s James Bay Frontier. This is his first work of fiction and will be of value to young readers who are interested in learning about the rites of passage First Nations youngsters experience as they grow older. Each of the four chapters, one for each season, can stand on its own as a self-contained story, but each leads easily into another, making the book accessible for readers who are new to chapter books. Complementing Pinkney’s text are striking black and white illustrations by Darlene Gait, an internationally recognized First Nations artist. The pictures work harmoniously in breaking up the text in each chapter and provide support for the story without being distracting.

     Although the story progresses in a pleasing and logical manner, it seems to end abruptly at the conclusion of the fourth chapter. This was a disappointment as the boy’s excitement to show Lindy his carvings the following spring was mentioned several times throughout the book. A fifth chapter would have brought the story full circle and would have proven to be satisfying to the reader. This exclusion leaves the reader hanging slightly and feeling like something is missing. Notwithstanding, Soapstone Signs will be an enjoyable read for young readers who are exploring first chapter books.


Jennifer Baetz is a Fine Arts Librarian in Saskatoon, SK.

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

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