Title: The Broken Blade
Author: William Durbin
Major Themes: Canada, Canoeing, Fur Trade, Voyageurs
Synopsis: When his father is injured and can’t make the family’s living for the year, Pierre signs up to paddle a canoe from Montreal to Grand Portage in his father’s place.
The Broken Blade is another book that I read to myself quickly several years ago when Esther was supposed to read it, but have now read aloud to my boys. They loved it! The story is pretty exciting, and very realistic; I also liked watching Pierre grow up through the course of the story.
Thirteen-year-old Pierre was still in bed one morning, listening to his father splitting the wood he himself should have been splitting—and heard a terrible cry. His father had cut his thumb off. Now what would become of the family, if Father could not go with the voyageurs to Grand Portage? It was time to sign up with a crew for the summer, and they would be leaving in a couple of days! Pierre knew there was only one way for his family to survive next winter, so he signed up to paddle a canoe the 2,400 miles from Montreal to the north side of Lake Superior.
Life with the voyageurs was very hard. Pierre came in for a lot of ribbing, and his hands were soon blistered from paddling. Could he make it to Grand Portage? Or would he collapse from the hard work? And what about Beloit, the man who seemed to be determined to make life as hard as possible for the new boy? If it hadn’t been for La Londe, La Petite (the biggest man on the crew), and Charbonneau, Pierre would have found his new life unbearable.
You’ll sorrow with Pierre when the worst thing he could imagine happens, and laugh at the funny stories he hears when he is with Charbonneau in Grand Portage. You’ll cheer him when he finds strength he didn’t know he had, and rejoice when his crew is saved from certain death. I really liked what Pierre’s father said to him at the end, when he arrived back home. When we finished the book, we saw a page at the end advertising a sequel—guess what my boys want me to get for them!
One day while we were reading this story, I came across a news article about a shipwreck that was recently discovered in Lake Superior. I showed it to my children, and when we looked up the location on Google Maps, we found that it happened in the very bay in which Pierre and his crew were nearly shipwrecked in the chapter we had read that morning! We were rather excited to make a connection like that. It’s always good to be able to relate what we are reading to real life.
WARNING: In chapter 4, Pierre kisses a girl; on the next page, it mentions that his father cursed at sudden pain. Chapter 6 includes a description of a massacre. In chapter 12 a man died. There was a fight in chapter 15, and in chapter 16 one man ate his breakfast naked while his clothes dried after washing. Also in that chapter Pierre punched a man, who then called his friends idiots.
Listening Level—Ages 10 – 12, Family Friendly
Reading Independently—Ages 12 – 15