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Exploring the Frozen North

Reviewed: March 21, 2007
By: Pierre Berton
Publisher: Fifth House
188 pages, $19.95

In Pierre Bertonís literary memoir, The Joy of Writing, there is a chapter section called ďThe Joy of RecyclingĒ, in which Berton discusses turning newspaper columns into books and reusing material from one research project in another.

He didnít mention the M&S paperback series for younger readers called Adventures in Canadian History, which he mined from his adult works on the same subjects during the 1990s. I thought they were a pretty good product, but a relative of mine in the childrenís publishing industry told me they werenít. He had nothing bad to say about the content, but the package in which it was delivered was not, he said, one that would appeal to its target market.

I really donít know if he was right, but there are quite a few of the almost two dozen of them in our local library, and they donít seem to leave the shelves very often.

I donít think that will be the case with these reissued versions. Fifth House has taken the series and repackaged them as Bertonís History for Young Canadians, in omnibus editions collected according to their themes. Theyíve stripped out the line drawings that assisted the text, but have reset the material with some photos, better maps and lots of pull-quotes in a very attractive trade paperback sized book with a sturdy paperback binding.

Exploring the Frozen North contains the original books Parry of the Arctic, Jane Franklinís Obsession, Dr. Kane of the Arctic Seas and Trapped in the Arctic. This book looks like it will be picked up by quite a few more people.

Thatís the good news. There are a few quibbles, things that the person editing the series ought to have caught.

First off, the boilerplate authorís biography, which will doubtless be in every book in the series, is incorrect. It begins ďPierre Berton, well-known and well-loved Canadian author, journalist and media personality, hailed from Whitehorse, Yukon.Ē Pierre wasnít a great believer in the afterlife, so perhaps he isnít scowling down on the person who removed him from his beloved Dawson City. He may have been born in our current capital city, but he spent his youth in the original one.

The other gaff is in Eric Wilsonís heartfelt introduction. Eric and his wife, Flo, spent several months in Berton House in 2004, as part of the Berton House Writer's Residence Retreat program, researching a young adult mystery novel that should be appearing in print next year some time. He was grateful for the time and wanted to give credit to the program, so he mentioned it here.

ďIt was (Bertonís) own generosity that made Berton House possible. he purchased the building, and paid for the renovations. Because of this, other writers can sit on the steps of Berton House, gazing across the street at Robert Serviceís cabin. They, too, can be inspired by the success of Robert Service - and the Bertons.Ē

Thatís not quite correct.

Berton bought the house, but didnít pay to have it renovated. That cost, all subsequent repairs, as well as the annual taxes and utilities, are covered by the Klondike Visitors Association, even though the building is owned by a subcommittee of the Yukon Arts Society.† I was surprised that someone as cautious in his research as Eric didnít catch that difference.

Why am I nitpicking here? Well, the KVA deserves some credit for what it has done. That would be enough of a reason. But just as important, Iím hoping to get the record set straight. Publishers receive copies of these columns after I write them and also seem to monitor their later appearance on the Yukonbooks.com website run by Macís Fireweed Books. My wish is that someone at Fifth House will see this column and correct the problems Iíve mentioned in later volumes of this series or when these volumes are reprinted, which I think they may well be.

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