PICTURE MAKER by Penina Keen Spinka


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Children’s author Spinka (Mother’s Blessing, 1992, etc.) makes a leap to adult fiction with a 14th-century tale of a young Mohawk girl who samples a variety of North American cultures.

As her name implies, Picture Maker knows how to draw. But this remains her name only briefly, for soon after we are introduced to the Ganeogaono people, Picture Maker is abducted by Algonquins and traded off as a slave. Her first master is so cruel that other Algonquins feel pity for her, and no one is sorry when she murders her owner and runs away—though not before she is pregnant. Now called Little One, she finds friendlier Algonquins but stays with them only a short time, fearing reprisal for her crime. She allows herself to be traded to the Inuits in the north, who call her Mikisoq and murder her baby because it’s a girl. When the Inuit tribe splits, Mikisoq goes with the group heading across a frozen ocean. These eventually encounter their first white man, a Greenlander with a knife identical to the one Mikisoq has had since her time with the Algonquins. It’s fate, and Mikisoq, soon to be Astrid, marries the knife-holder, a burly redhead. But will the mini–Ice Age of the 14th century spoil a fairy tale ending? If the cold doesn’t become the death of Mikisoq and her man, maybe the Christians will. The story is epic, but the telling hasn’t grown up quite as fast as Picture Maker has: the cadence has a YA feel, and much information is repeated. The history is complete and unforgiving but sometimes takes precedence over character—only moments after being raped, for instance, Picture Maker describes her rapist as not unpleasant to look at. Consistency may be a problem as well: Picture Maker knows that clams are bivalve creatures but can convey “twenty” only by saying “four hands.”

A longish, lightish adventure set in a world forgotten by most history books.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-525-94624-1
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2001