________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 18 . . . . May 10, 2002

cover The True Story of Trapper Jack's Left Big Toe.

Ian Wallace.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 2002.
32 pp., cloth, $18.95.
ISBN 0-88899-415-X.

Subject Headings:
Yukon Territory-Fiction.

Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.

Review by Val Nielsen.

*** /4

image According to award-winning author-illustrator Ian Wallace, at the Sourdough Saloon in Dawson City, one can order a drink called a Sour-toe cocktail which contains a real human toe. A newspaper story about the disappearance of the famous mummified toe supposedly provided inspiration for Wallace's tale entitled The True Story of Trapper John's Left Big Toe.

     Ten-year old Josh has been in the Yukon only a week when his new friend Gabe, teller of wild stories, stops him cold in his tracks in front of a small cabin.

     "The old guy living there is Trapper Jack. He's only got nine toes. The tenth, his left big one, is inside an empty tobacco tin behind the bar at the Sourdough Saloon."

     "Get off."

     "Gabe thumped me on the arm. "My Mom's seen it."

     "No way!"

     Josh is hooked by the tall toe-tale and is driven to find out whether his friend is "yanking his toes" or whether he is telling the truth. They visit Trapper Jack, and, sure enough, they are treated to the sight of a big-toe-less left foot. When Josh asks if they can see the toe in the tobacco tin, the old trapper says, "Cain't do that...I'm thinking you ain't got the stomach for an amputated toe. I'm thinking your bellies are as soft and yellow as these egg yolks."

     To prove Trapper Jack wrong about their bellies, the boys meet at him at the saloon, primed for a look at the tinned toe. Alas, fate intervenes in the form of a three-legged dog, and a wild raven chase ensues. There is a delightful twist at the end of the story which will set readers chuckling; however there is also a puzzling twist within that twist, which may have been intentional, but seems to be a genuine mistake by the artist or his editors. When Trapper John strips off boot and sock to show the boys his amazing right foot, it is his LEFT foot which appears at the end of his right leg. Such an error in a book of this caliber is surprising.

     Wallace's wonderfully detailed paintings of the Yukon landscape will chill the reader's bones. His authentic depiction of buildings, trees, snow and sky sprinkled with the ubiquitous ravens combine with a strong and salty prose style to make this unusual picture book a good choice for the elementary school library's Canadiana collection.


A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364