Bob Barton,
The Bear Says North
(Groundwood, 2003)

Climate, not culture, dictates the selection of tales in Bob Barton's collection, The Bear Says North. This slim volume, handsomely illustrated by Jirina Martin, brings together 10 stories from Canada, Scandinavia, Russia and other lands where the winters are harsh and the snows are deep. So throw another log on the fire, tug the thick blankets a little more snugly around your shoulders and listen closely.

The moon seeks a bride. A foolish boy makes his fortune. An orphan girl finds a magical goat. A winter elemental is put in its place by a well-prepared peasant. A young lad holds onto his hat. A couple befriends a colony of trolls. A bear loses his lunch. A girl seeks the Northern Lights. The prairie wolf steals fire for men, and the frog loses its tail. And a raven kills a whale.

Barton admits in his introduction that he has lent his own voice to these stories; these are not rote repetitions of tales collected at the knee of arctic storytellers. His adaptations work nicely, giving a smooth flow to a collection that could otherwise have drastically different narrative styles in a small span of pages. On the other hand, he has stripped some of the cultural distinctiveness from the stories, making it hard to distinguish North American lore from its North European and North Asian counterparts. (Barton fails to include convenient headings to tell readers where each story is from.)

The stories are charming but short, perfect for bedtime reading (either to a child or by a weary adult). My only real complaint is the sparse notes compiled in the back; a little more detail about the origins of these stories would have been appreciated.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 8 May 2004

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