Review of On the Trapline

On the Trapline
by David A. Robertson; illus. by Julie Flett
Primary    Tundra    48 pp.    g
5/21    978-0-7352-6668-1    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7352-6669-8    $10.99

From the creators of When We Were Alone (rev. 3/17) comes another powerful and affecting picture book, this one about a boy who accompanies his grandfather Moshom up north, where as a child Moshom and his family lived on the trapline. It’s a poignant journey, because he has not been back since. The two travel by plane, car, and boat to reach the trapline. Along the way, Moshom shows the boy where he used to swim; go to school; chop wood; pick berries; and set traps for muskrats. Robertson’s first-person text is conversational, honed, and immediate: “There’s a river at the end of the highway. We get into one of the motorboats docked along the shore and head out onto the water. The river is wide, but Moshom’s smile is even wider.” Before each page-turn, Robertson’s text ends with a sentence defining Swampy Cree words, providing a graceful landing point for each spread. Sometimes the defined word corresponds directly to a word used just before (“Moshom tells me that in the winter, everybody in the family slept in one room, where the wood stove kept them warm… / Wakomakanak means ‘family’”); sometimes the connection is subtle (“When we’re about to leave, I stand with Moshom by the lake. / He holds my hand tight, but he doesn’t say anything. / Kiskisiw means ‘he remembers’”). Flett’s remarkable illustrations immerse the viewer in the north of Moshom’s past and present. An evocative blue-green begins on the endpapers and anchors most spreads, representing lake, river, and sky; these soft, cool colors are set off by warm browns (of skin tones, birds, woodpiles) and occasional pops of bright red. An outstanding contribution to the literature about family, intergenerational friendship, remembrance, community, Indigenous experience, and more. Appended with author and illustrator notes and a glossary.

From the July/August 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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