Soapstone Signs, from the Orca Echoes series, is one of our book club books this year.
I predict it will be a favourite.
It is so beautifully written it enchanted me. Pinkney's background in poetry is obvious. I don't usually feel this way about about a chapter book, but honestly, Pinkney's use of language is so lyrical I was forced to stop and reread sections.
The book tells the story of a young cree boy who lives in the James Bay area. Every spring his family is visited by a master carver, Lindy, who sells his carvings at their lodge.
"Lindy has a place he likes to sit by the riverbank. I like to sit with him and watch him carve. Sometimes he hands me what he has been working on. I look and then hand it back without saying a word. Really, that is saying a lot."
This spring, Lindy gives the boy four pieces of soapstone to carve. The boy wants to know what to carve and is told, "You ask the stone, ... Whatever it is going to be, it is already there." The conversation continues, and the boy learns that you have to wait for a sign, and that "a sign can be anyway that the world gives you a message. Signs come to you when your thoughts mix with your senses."
The boy's first sign comes in a dream and he carves a polar bear. Then we follow him through the ensuing year as he finds signs in many different places. In the summer he travels by canoe with his mother on a berry picking expedition. In the fall he joins the hunters shooting geese for the first time. Come winter there is hockey and life in a frozen world.
The boy's encounter with a young beluga whale and making eye contact is another one of these sections where I found myself delighted by the images Pinkney's words convey.
"Little Wapameg gets close enough to brush the side of our canoe. Then the whale rolls slightly sideways so that one eye breaks the surface and looks up. Right up at me!
Little Wapameg's eye is big, wet and round. The colour is a deep gray, nearly black, shimmering like a mirror and bottomless too. The eye shines like a polished carving stone. I feel Little Wapameg look at me and it's as if we are sharing all the wonder from inside both of us. I feel still and calm. "
Darlene Gait's illustrations capture the essence of this story, enhance the magic of the beautiful text and transport readers into the the boy's world and his way of living in it.
I can't wait to hear what my young book club members have to say about it.