Here I thought my character Andre was too young to travel with a brigade of experienced canoemen (though he was taller than the usual 5’6” for voyageurs).
But Margi Preus has envisioned a super-tiny one — a squirrel who longs to see what all the excitement is about. She’s created “The Littlest Voyageur,” a story suitable for younger readers (perhaps third-graders) with a light and fanciful touch.
All her voyageurs she has humorously named “Jean”: Jean Henri, Jean Claude, Jean Luc, Jean Paul, Jean Gentille … so the squirrel becomes Jean Pierre Petit Le Rouge (Jean Pierre, the Little Red).
PIX of voyageurs, p7
What was FUN:
- imagining a squirrel hiding among a group of hardworking voyageurs,
- imagining how he might provide important services and endear himself,
- imagining the problems he could cause for them.
This squirrel volunteers to head to the rendezvous, but he wonders why the brigades go there — missing critical info, as it happens. When he finally finds out, he struggles with his conscience — after all, he is one with the fur-bearing four-legged critters whose pelts are being transported back to Montreal. Then he meets Monique, a flying squirrel who helps him sort out numerous challenges.
Want to know how resourceful Jean Pierre Petit Le Rouge is? He uses pine cones and thunderstorms to illustrate Newton’s theories and organizes a rendezvous for the animals, a Fur-Bearers Day.
Margi’s use of language sparkles. For example, some people might think leaving each morning without breakfast is inhumane but Le Petit believes it “insquirrele.”
Cheryl Pilgrim has created dozens of charming and evocative black and white drawings to illustrate — historically authentic.
French words are sprinkled throughout — “Oui, c’est vrai” (Yes, it’s true) and “Mon bon ami” (my best friend) and “Merci beaucoup” (Thank you very much). They’re phrases that children would enjoy using. At the end of the book, Margi included a Pronunciation Guide to assist young readers in properly saying the words and phrases.
Plus Margi adds factual info in short essays at the end: About Voyageurs, About Red Squirrels and Flying Squirrels, a Recipe for Bannock, an impressive biblio and a note suggesting that her little voyageur might have picked up an idea from Shakespeare or Thoreau.
“The Littlest Voyageur” (available March 2020) is just fun! I’m delighted to recommend it. It adds nicely to the growing collection of children’s literature and picture books about the fur trade era.
- Read more books on the era. Here’s an annotated list for younger readers, or my biblio for “Waters Like the Sky” and the biblio for “Treacherous Waters.”
- Request that your library purchase copies. Margi’s book will be available in March, but can be pre-ordered.
- Got a question? I’ll research the answers for a future post.
- Book me as a speaker.