Thursday, August 14, 2014

Reader's Diary #1051- Stan Rogers and Matt James: Northwest Passage

As a long time fan of Stan Rogers' song "Northwest Passage" (even more so than "Barrett's Privateers"), I was thrilled to see that it had been turned into a picture book, with illustrations and supplementary information by Toronto based Renaissance man, Matt James.

My son's first read-aloud loves were songs turned into picture books, specifically Bud Davidge's The Mummer Song, Dolly Parton's The Coat of Many Colors, and Stompin' Tom's Hockey Night Tonight (aka "The Hockey Song"), so the idea of such a concept was not new to me. That said, Matt James has taken it above and beyond those aforementioned books. The illustrations alone blow the others out of the water (Matt James even won a Governor General's Award for illustration for his work on it) but the additional historical information added a whole other fascinating angle.

Using Stan Rogers as a character, James alternates between Rogers' own introspective lyrics and the explorers referred to in the song. Using timelines, bios, and historical facts, James provides a wonderful resource on those early European explorers, while humanizing them in the process. It would be a wonderful companion to Pierre Berton's The Arctic Grail.

There were a few formatting issues and decisions that could have been handled better. The text on the timeline is incredibly small, for instance. I also think that, while the non-fiction historical facts were a bonus to the book, sometimes the flow of the song got lost. Instead of always alternating, I'd have preferred to have the lyrics run across the top of each page, and adding the historical stuff below whenever appropriate.

Otherwise, a fantastic book.

I've mentioned Stompin' Tom and Stan Rogers. Apparently Gordon Lightfoot also has had a picture book based on one of his songs. Any other Canadian songs that you know of that have also been adapted for children's literature? Or ones that you'd like to see? I think the Tragically Hip features a lot of Canadiana but a lot of it's dark. Likewise, I'll not accept Leonard Cohen's "The Future" as a children's book. I think "I'se the B'y" or "Lukey's Boat" could be done well, but it need not just be folk songs.


raidergirl3 said...

Love Stan Rogers.

Maybe Lennie Gallant's Tale of the Phantom Ship?

The Old Black Rum? heh heh

John Mutford said...

Raidergirl: I wasn't familiar with that song (Tale of the Phantom Ship, not the Old Black Rum!), and yes, a story song like that would be great. I can also see that one working as a comic.