Homecoming: A Review of On The Trapline

On the Trapline
Written by David A. Robertson and illustrated by Julie Flett
Published by Tundra Books, Penguin Random House
Ages 4-8 years
Available May 4, 2021

A boy and his grandpa, Moshom, take a trip north to visit where Moshom grew up, the trapline. “What’s a trapline?” the boy asks Moshom. A trapline is where people hunt animals and live off the land. When the pair arrive from their flight, they join Moshom’s community. Moshom and his friend greet each other by saying, “tansi,” which means “hi” in Swampy Cree. The landscape is different up north, the boy notices, unlike the city. There are houses here, but far apart. “Is this your trapline?” the boy asks. No, Moshom says, this is where we lived after we left the trapline. There is a shore behind the house, and Moshom tell his grandson how he and his brothers and sisters would swim there. The boy imagines what it would be like, swimming and playing with paper boats in the summer. Moshom takes them down a path leading to an old building, the school he went to after they left the trapline. Most of the students only spoke Cree, but had to learn English. They would sneak off so they could speak their language together. The boy imagines speaking Cree there. As they gaze at the trees, the grandson asks again, “Is this your trapline?” No, Moshom says, his trapline is far from there. They continue on to a river. Moshom and the boy climb into a motorboat, and Moshom smiles. On the river, the boy sees beaver dams and eagles. Moshom points and smiles wide, “That’s my trapline.” They pluck saskatoon berries and Moshom tells how when they were hungry, they had to find food. The boy imagines living there and doing all his chores outside. When they are about to leave, Moshom stands with his grandson at the water’s edge and holds his hand tight. As they depart, the boy asks his grandfather if he can see his trapline. Moshom says he can. The boy can, too.

This gentle and stirring picture book captures the relationship between grandfather and grandson, and the stories and experiences that connect them together. Author David A. Robertson bases this story on a trip he took with his father; his father had not seen the trapline where he grew up for seventy years. Robertson reveals the curiosity and imagination of a young child as he considers how his family lived in the past. The prose is gentle and factual, with a recurrent questioning of, “Is this your trapline?” When the pair arrives at the words, “This is my trapline,” the story leans into savoring what this place means. Julie Flett’s illustrations complement the quiet and inviting prose. Flett’s pictures use warm earth tones to convey the wonder and possibilities of the land. Horizons, grass, and water feature prominently in the imagery, as do the humans who dot the landscape. The effect is haunting and infinite, echoing Robertson’s intergenerational story. The picture book is populated with Swampy Cree language, and the back of the book includes a Swampy Cree glossary and pronunciation guide. The back matter also includes an author’s note and an illustrator’s note, where Robertson discusses his inspiration for the book, and Flett discusses her ties to Robertson and their shared Norway House Cree Nation heritage.