Book Review: One Summer Up North

One Summer Up North by John Owens
University of Minnesota Press

One Summer Up North
John Owens
University of Minnesota Press

One summer up north, I shared a magical book with my child. Ok, we weren’t actually ‘up north’ when we read the book, as my daughter would insist I clarify. But now we want to be.

One Summer Up North, by Minnesota illustrator John Owens is a story of a family canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, from entry point to last day on the water. And while it is indeed a story, a surprise bonus was the total lack of words. I’m speaking as someone who loves the Boundary Waters, as a mom who feels some trepidation in taking my kid there, and also as the parent of an ’emerging’ reader. Phrases that are often heard in our house include “can you just read it for me and I’ll listen along?” and “there are too many words that are so small.” As it turns out, we were both ready for a break from reading practice, and also ready to be inspired by Minnesota’s distinctive wilderness.

John Owens taps multiple themes and wonderful storytelling through his pictures. We follow the a family as they embark on a canoe adventure with its many dramatic ups and downs, but I wouldn’t reserve this for my ‘outdoorsy’ friends only, it has broad appeal. Some scenes will look familiar to anyone who has ever taken a kid, on any kind of trip, some scenes will strum the heartstrings of passionate paddlers, and the artwork could certainly inspire many families to head up north.

One Summer Up North by John Owens
University of Minnesota Press
All illustrations © John Owens, courtesy University of Minnesota Press

I’m happy to see the paddlers depicted wearing PFDs, celebrating moments from a real canoe trip – there are heavy packs, there are canoes to portage, there is rain, it can all be beautiful, and it can be a challenge. I notice that the author omitted the bugs, but I’m on board with that decision. We know very little about the family in this story, but maybe they’re not the main characters – the Boundary Waters is. We don’t need to know their names, and we can more easily picture ourselves in their shoes and just enjoy paddling across the shining waters, experience a few special moments in the BWCAW, feel small under the starry night skies.

Phrases that I heard while my daughter and I explored One Summer Up North… “Ooh, I know what this is, a look and find book! Do you see an animal up in the trees? I see an owl. Do you know what else I see? A pinecone! …I see a kid who says ‘I’m so tired, can we please just stop and go home?’ Look, I found a place to hang out. It’s an island. There might be some animals hiding on the island, if you look really close, I can see them, even if you can’t. This was a really fun look and find book, I’m actually going to bring this camping!”

– Reviewed by Kari Finkler, Editor Quetico Superior Wilderness News

One Summer Up North by John Owens University of Minnesota Press

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