CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 38. . . .June 9, 2017
The Fog is set in Icy Land, a fictional island inhabited by wildlife and inundated by tourists. While other animals seem to pay the tourists no mind, a yellow warbler named Warble is fascinated by these human creatures and enjoys people watching as his favourite pastime. But one day, a fog comes to Icy Land. Only Warble and the ducks seem alarmed at its arrival. Soon the fog becomes a permanent fixture, and everyone except Warble becomes used to it, and the name of the island changes to Fog Land. While people watching in the dense fog one day, Warble spots a young girl wearing a red hooded jacket, and they soon become friends. Though they are different species, they are able to communicate, and they share their concern about the fog. The little girl decides to send notes that say “Do you see the fog?” on origami boats out to sea, hoping others will respond. The little girl and Warble receive notes back from animals all over the world, indicating that they, too, see the fog. With each note received back, the fog appears to lift a little. Slowly, Warble and the little girl begin to see things again, and the sky once again becomes clear.
After I read The Fog, I read the publisher’s (Tundra Books) promotional write-up for the book. I am surprised that they promote the book as “a poignant yet humorous reminder of environmental awareness”. Truth be told, I hadn’t thought of the fog in the story representing one specific thing, let alone the fog being metaphoric of actual weather. Upon a close rereading, there is one page where it says, “And he had started to notice other changes too” with an illustration of Warble looking at a piece of cracked ice. But this inference is so slight and, in my mind, it isn’t convincing enough to make it a book specifically about climate change. As I read the book and read it to my children, I thought of the fog as any idea or issue that people seem to ignore. For instance, any social justice topic, like discrimination, could be a type of fog. Fog as a metaphor is complex and deep, and I would hate The Fog to be categorized solely as an environmental book. It could be, but it could be so many other things too. Just as the little girl in the story is an allusion to Little Red Riding Hood, like a fairy tale, there is a universality of The Fog. I also think Kyo Maclear could have gone a bit further with the plot. While most would agree that awareness and knowledge of issues are important, so, too, is action. Warble and the girl in the red jacket don’t do anything about the fog other than ask others about it.
The most striking part of The Fog is its illustrations. Pak’s pencil, watercolour, and digital images are fun and quirky. The yellow warbler and the little girl with the red jacket are contrasted with the grays, blues, and whites of the illustrations of Icy Land. The illustrations add another level to the text with subtle humour. For instance, Warble’s books on people watching are entitled Humans: Their Breeding and Care, The Book of Humans and Problems of Human Behaviors. My favourite parts of the book are Warble’s “scientific” illustrations and naming of people. For example, “#670 Dapper Bespectacled Booklover” is illustrated by an intellectual adult male reading a book. The little girl in the story with the red jacket is “#673 Red-hooded spectacled female (juvenile)”.
While the publisher recommends ages 4-8 for the book, my own children (ages 8 and 5-year-old twins) had no concept of the fog representing something else, even during and after engaging in a conversation with me about the fog and its meaning. However for older children (I would suggest up to age 12), there is a lot of rich talk to be had after reading The Fog. As listed on the dust jacket, “Why has the fog come? When will it leave? Why doesn’t anyone notice it?” These are all good questions to engage and extend school-age children’s thinking.
Dr. Kristen Ferguson teaches literacy education at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University in North Bay, ON.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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.