Thursday, January 24, 2008

Marja's Skis

Pendziwol, Jean E. 2007. MARJA’S SKIS. Ill. by Jirina Marton. Toronto: Groundwood Books. ISBN 9780888996749 [Suggested Grade Levels 2-5]

Around the turn of the twentieth century, many Scandinavians relocated to the Great Lakes region of North America. Adapting easily to the harsh winter environment, they frequently worked in the forestry industry. Marja is the youngest daughter of one such Finnish family. She desperately desires to be big enough to help tend Father’s team of horses, to milk the family cow, and to ski the long distance to school. When she turns seven, Father overrules Mother and allows her to begin attending school. He reminds Marja that “when you are strong inside, you can do anything.” Marja recalls those words later when Father tragically dies from injuries in a logging accident. She is reminded of the encouragement once again when she must ski out onto ice to help rescue a logger trapped in a thawing river.

The story is part informative, part narrative, as readers learn of the life experienced by these immigrants. An author’s note at the end of the story explains the history and contributions of the Scandinavian North Americans. The striking impressionistic paintings that illustrate the story provide readers with a sense of darkness and cold during the winter scenes. The full-page pictures exude warmth as the story progresses into the spring thaw, enhancing the overall quality of the book. Informative, encouraging, and beautiful, this story of Marja and her family is an absorbing historical picture story book.

Locate Scandinavian countries on a map, and compare the weather in those countries with that of the Great Lakes regions. Examine the historical events that led to an exodus of people from those countries at the end of the nineteenth century.

Oil pastels are used to create the gorgeous illustrations, and readers can distinctly see how the illustrator blends colors to shade and highlight. Introduce pastels as a medium in an art project.

Other books set in the Great Lakes region:
Chall, Marsha Wilson. UP NORTH AT THE CABIN. ISBN 0688097324
Lasky, Kathryn. MARVEN OF THE GREAT NORTH WOODS. ISBN 0152168265
Smucker, Anna Egan. TO KEEP THE SOUTH MANITOU LIGHT. ISBN 0814332358

By Rebecca McKee

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