February 01, 2016

A Boy Asked the Wind

by Barbara Nickel
Illustrated by Gillian Newland
Red Deer Press
978-0-889-95480-9
40 pp.
Ages 5-10
November, 2015

It's hard to believe that A Boy Asked the Wind is Barbara Nickel’s first children’s story book, especially as I'd enjoyed her YA book Hannah Waters and the Daughter of Johann Sebastian Bach (Penguin Canada, 2005) and had no idea she is the poet she is. Fortunately Barbara Nickel has applied her skills in verse-writing  and created a story based lovingly on an innocent query asked by her son about where the wind lives.  Thus, A Boy Asked the Wind was born.

The boy may ask his question from the familiar front yard of his house, but the wind cannot answer him without taking him around the world.  A visit to the plains and prairies of the bison and the Blackfoot introduces the boy to the overwhelming Chinook.  But just as the boy is convinced that he now knows where the wind lives, he is taken to the Pacific Ocean and witnesses the Papagayo winds as they increase upwelling and impact marine life. Still the boy does not have the complete answer, though he naively believes he has. Next a visit to South Africa exposes the boy to the Cape Doctor, the strong southeasterly winds that shape the cape and clear town life of its atmospheric debris. And then the Shamal winds toss and storm the sands of Iraq and the Persian Gulf countries, as violent as the soldiers and the violence therein. Finally, as the Shamal dies down for the night, the wind returns the boy to his house and becomes the gentle west wind of his home.

As powerful and as immeasurable as the wind depicted within, A Boy Asked the Wind will take readers on a global journey while overwhelming them with its lyricism and grace.  Barbara Nickel's verse reaches beyond its basic words and traverses the world and careens through its landscapes and people to become unstoppable.
plunging with a mighty whoosh,
horns and hooves, a mighty swish
through dry grass and coulees, rushing
everywhere until the winter vanished. 
Then he and Chinook lingered to whistle
spring into the land, tussled
through shoots of silverweed, flew faster
than homecoming geese, ran past 
a herd of bison pounding, leaping
over the cliff.
(pg. 9)
A Boy Asked the Wind, pg. 8, illustration by Gillian Newland
Imagine the complexity of illustrating a book about the wind.  Ask yourself, “What colours and textures, shape and line would best depict an entity so omnipotent?”  Using watercolour, ink and pencil, Gillian Newland easily makes the readers feel that entity, a character that is only line, by focusing on that which the wind touches: plains, bison, ocean, cliffs, deserts, plants and animals, communities.  What she is able to accomplish is both alluring and admirable, not unlike the wind itself.

A Boy Asked the Wind should be on every school and child’s bookshelf as a powerful read about nature’s airstreams but more as the supremacy of wind to shape our worlds and those of others.

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