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The Year of Fire, Teddy Jam, Ian Wallace, illus.; $14.95 cloth 0-88899-154-1, 48 pp., 8 x 10, Groundwood (ages 6+)

[Joanne Findon, Quill & Quire, July 1, 1992]

The narrator of this book is helping her grandfather make maple syrup and listening to his stories. When she asks him if he has ever seen a fire bigger than the one boiling the syrup, he tells her about the great fire that destroyed the old forest and several homes in the community when he was a boy. Rotting stumps are the only reminder of past devastation in a landscape now grown over. As he talks, the story of the fire is passed on to the young girl.

This is a beautiful but somewhat perplexing book. The story-within-a-story about the great fire is engaging, but the grandfather does not seem emotionally involved in the event he recounts, and this sense of distance is passed on to the reader. On the other hand, the book convincingly conveys the intimate experience of oral storytelling through the grandfather's vernacular style. The author is obviously exploring themes of life and death and regeneration, both in nature and in families, through the relationship between old and young and the complex role of storytelling in binding the two together. Yet this is perhaps too ambitious a project for a short book.

The Year of Fire deiiberately crosses traditional genre boundaries. The text is divided into five chapters, yet the format is that of a picture book, with Wallace's beautiful illustrations of past and present landscapes dominating the pages. The result is a challenging book that may appeal to older readers, though it will be interesting to see at what target audience the book is marketed.

Copyright © Ian Wallace