The Map-Maker by Kerry Wood (Great Stories of Canada #7)

Title: The Map-Maker by Kerry Wood
Series: Great Stories of Canada #7
Publisher: Macmillan, 1955
Availability: Out of print, but available used online via Book Finder

Time Period: 1784 – 1857
Setting: Western Canada
Grade Level: Years 2-5
Verdict: Excellent! Heartily recommended!   
Rating: ★★★★★

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1. What is the story about?
The Map-Maker tells the fascinating story of David Thompson, a Welsh land geographer who explored and mapped vast stretches of western Canada and parts of the United States.

2.  Is it written by a single author with a passion for his/her subject?
Yes, the book was written by Kerry Wood, an Albertan naturalist with a passion for local history.

3. Does it have ideas, not just facts?
Yes! This book has many wonderful ideas to contemplate! Here are a few examples:

– Excellence and fame do not necessarily go hand in hand 
I found it David Thompson’s story totally fascinating. He was brave and bold, and explored and surveyed much of western Canada; it was a remarkable feat. Says Mr. Kerry Wood: “We know that [David Thompson] travelled over 50,000 miles by canoe, on foot, and on horseback through the untracked wilderness, and by his own initiative and industry accomplished the staggering feat of mapping half a continent. It is no exaggeration to state that David Thompson was the greatest land geographer the world has ever known.” And yet he is not well known! In addition to surveying half a continent, he also spent two years drawing a master map of Canada. Says Mr. Kerry Wood: “Providing the geographical details of over a million and a half square miles of territory, this master map should have made David Thompson’s name famous throughout the English speaking world. Instead, the great chart was hung in secret state in the council hall of the Nor’Westers… It was to the Company’s business interests to keep the geographical information away from outsiders.” David Thompson, in fact, died penniless.

– What determination looks like in real life
David Thompson nearly died going over a 12-foot waterfall, he hiked the Rocky Mountains in the winter time, he spent winters chopping wood in -40C weather, and he also got into a race to discover a passage through the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. He was a tireless, determined man!

– Real men keep nature journals
I found the descriptions of beautiful landscapes of western Canada delightful, as was the discovery that that David Thompson kept a nature diary! “His powers of observation sharpened with use as he got into the habit of sighting with the sextant and compass every day and night; he took careful note of his surroundings and never failed to comment on the features and beauties of the landscape. These comments were inscribed in daily journals, along with details of temperature, the direction of wind, the nature of the terrain, and anything pertinent to map-making. The sun and stars were his guides.”

– What life was like for women and children
David Thompson was fourteen years old when he was recruited as an apprentice with the Hudson’s Bay Company. He’d been in school studying mathematics and navigation and his teacher had recommended him for the position. He never saw his mother again.
David later married a woman named Charlotte Small. She gave birth to their fourth child while they were traveling from Lake Superior to the Rocky Mountains via canoe!”The party had a brief rest there until the mother was strong enough to travel, then they journeyed west.” How’s that for a remarkable birth story?!

4. Is it well written?
Yes, The Map-Maker is both well-written and engaging. I was thoroughly captivated!

5. Is it inspiring?
Yes, the story is very inspiring. David Thompson was a remarkable man! He was observant, detailed, generous, resourceful, courteous, and kind. He accomplished so much by working very hard.

6. For what age group would this book be a good fit? The Map-Maker would probably be a good fit for Years 2-5.

Further Reading:
When he was in his late seventies, and half blind, David Thompson leafed through his thirty-nine journals and eleven books of survey and wrote a manuscript that summarized his travels and discoveries. It was published as David’s Thompson’s Narrative in 1915. I haven’t read it yet, but it sounds delightful!

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