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A Boy Asked the Wind

by Barbara Nickel; Gillian Newland (illus.)

In this celebration of the winds of the world, poet Barbara Nickel embeds a subtle message of global unity and peace.

9780889954809A young boy asks the wind where it lives and the wind answers by taking the boy on a series of visits to various locales, adopting a new name in each: Chinook in the Canadian foothills, Papagayo in Nicaragua, Cape Doctor in South Africa, and Shamal in the Middle East. Each form the wind takes has a distinct personality and purpose.

Nickel’s poetry is stunning, vibrant with verbs and gerunds. “So the boy followed / the warm downswirling, cold upflowing, / seething, rolling, swelling, howling / paths Papagayo stirred.”

Nickel makes sparing use of end rhymes, luxurious use of internal rhymes, and plays the rhythm of the words against lineation and page turns. Specific natural references (silverweed, coulee, dassie) ground the story.

Each vignette follows a similar story arc, with the wind increasing in ferocity and its effect on animals and humans. The overall narrative culminates in a war scene as Shamal blows a sandstorm through a battle zone. “Blinded by dust, / the boy could only hear: a blast / and clashing swords, a bomb, fist / on jaw, and spears clashing // for thousands of years, a cry / so long and deep, dark and wide, / he felt as if the world had died. / ‘Why?’ the boy asked. ‘WHY?’”

Finally, in a satisfyingly quiet ending, the wind answers the boy’s question: “one wind / with many voices, one wind with many faces. / My home is the world.”

In Gillian Newland’s paintings, the wind is portrayed as a series of swirly lines in neutral colours. The pictures are energetic and give us information about the various locations, but don’t quite match the nuance and power of the words.