Marisa and the Mountains
Marisa and the Mountains
Marisa says, “The mountains are spooky.” They cast long shadows. They swallow the sun in the evening before playtime is done.
In the morning the sun, pale and tired, struggles to RISE, RISE, RISE. No, Marisa does not like those mountains.
Marisa is a young girl struggling to cope with living in a seemingly physically intimidating environment, the mountains of Western Canada. She likens the imposing height of the mountains with standing in a close crowd of adults or poised within a jar of pencils and markers (a vivid and imaginative comparison). Although she enjoys participating in outdoor activities, such as bike riding and tobogganing that lend themselves well to her environment, she expresses repeatedly that she “does not like those mountains”.
However, she gains a reprieve when her family travels to the province of her birth, Saskatchewan, to visit relatives. With her cousin Rosie, she develops a great appreciation for the big and ever-changing sky (either through weather patterns or northern lights) and the flat nature of the landscape. However, she realizes soon enough that the Prairie landscape is not entirely ideal, either, for she cannot speedily coast down a hill, find enough hiding spots, or handle ravenous insects. After she returns home, Marisa realizes how much she truly does love the mountains.
What could be an interesting and romantic comparison of two unique Canadian landscapes instead seems to be vaguely negative and to contain some unfortunate misconceptions still hanging over the text despite the happy ending. This reviewer, while growing up in Saskatchewan, encountered many hills to sled and ride down, sufficient hiding places, and, actually, a normal amount and variety of insects. (The author biography indicates that he moved from Ontario to Kamloops in 1991 and there is no mention of his experiencing life on the Prairies.) In addition, it seems unlikely that a child who grows up in the mountains would dislike that environment to the extent depicted in the book. It does a disservice to our children when such a negative pall is cast on the surroundings in which they live in an era when society demands appreciation and gratitude for our immediate environs. The happy ending seems to arrive too quickly without much explanation for the 180-degree shift in mood.
On the back cover, a question on whether or not Marisa will “realize each place is special in its own irreplaceable way” is posed but is not fully answered in the book, at least in the case of a mountainous environment. The illustrations, on the other hand, are excellent, drawn with innocence and an almost child-like quality. Detailed colour pencil with subtle watercolour shading on a muted palette of blue-green hues encapsulate mountain living. When the heroine travels to the Prairies, the overall colour tone changes distinctively to bright yellows that contrast sharply and effectively with the moody blues of a thunderstorm and bright blue skies with delicate wisps of cloud. The illustrations truly show an understanding and appreciation of these contrasting landscapes and ultimately redeem the title.
Roxy Garstad is the Collections Librarian at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta.