‘Timber Wolf’ by Caroline Pignat

Book Reviews

Reviewed by Elizabeth Bricknell

Huzzah! Timber Wolf, by Governor General’s Award winner Caroline Pignat, gives the greatest shout-out to the Scout movement since Lord Baden-Powell filled his last Depend undergarment.

In her third novel about a member of the Irish Byrne family (the first two are seen from the eyes of his sister, Kit), twelve-year-old Jack faces every possible adversity that the Canadian wilderness can offer. He awakes in the forest with amnesia and injuries with a wolf stalking him, and it only gets worse from there. He starves, is caught in a trap, falls through the ice, is abducted by a madman, shot with an arrow, attacked by a bear, and, well, I don’t want to ruin the surprises.

Timber Wolf is a real boy’s boy book, filled with blood and guts, hardship and courage, the antithesis of Adrian Mole or the currently popular Wimpy Kid series. Our Jack even makes the Hardy Boys look like Pixar characters. From the outset, as he examines his injuries, he notes that, “my fingers ache, but I try to celebrate the chilblains in their tips, for it means my blood is pumping.” He finds a rabbit in a trap and instinctually skins it in one piece. He is astute and wilderness-savvy, a protagonist boys will admire and hopefully emulate.

“Imagine the stories they’ll tell about me–the great hunter who survived in the wintry woods alone and uninjured. How did you manage? they’ll ask. Sure, ’twas no bother at all, I’ll answer, not for a woodsman like meself.”

Pignat did her research. Set near a French/Irish logging area in 1847, the area remains densely populated with Anishnaabeg (First Nations), primarily Algonquin, and Jack makes their acquaintance through a boy his age named Mahingan. They save his life by teaching him how to trench a beaver dam, walk on snowshoes, and make bannock and pigiwizigan (maple taffy), but there is considerable animosity between the two boys. Jack calls him a gobshite and Mahingan retorts with kopadizi (dimwit). It is eminently educational (a glossary is provided at the end) but well-hidden in the constant, page-turning action. Children do not like to be tricked, but they will read Timber Wolf and emerge far more enlightened about Canadian history.

“We trudge through the woods to the river’s edge. Kitchi Sibi they call it. The Great River

‘I thought it was called the Ottawa River,’ I say. For I recall the loggers speaking of it.

‘A shognosh (white man) name,’ Mahingan says.”

His little sister adds: “‘They named it after the Odawa…but everyone knows this is Algonquin territory. Well, everyone except the man who made that map.'”

Through a vast combination of near-death experiences, ritualistic burning sage, a sweat lodge and his own loneliness, Jack has flashbacks that slowly make him recall his past. Yet any overt sentimentality is tempered with his urge for survival; there is simply no time for self-pity.

Pignat dedicates Timber Wolf to her own “pack” and had me at the preface with a Kipling quote (who doesn’t love to Kipple?) Her astonishing ability to speak from a young boy’s perspective and attention to detail transforms a good children’s story into classic literature.

Red Deer | 214 pages |  $12.95 | paper | ISBN #9780889954595


  1. Jean
    Posted January 25, 2012 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    Hard to fathom the need for that bit of disrespectful crudity, referring to Baden-Powell. Bit of a bully, are you, Elizabeth?

    • Elizabeth
      Posted February 7, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      Not at all! I thought that was one of my best lines yet – and the biggest compliment I could pay the author. Of course, we don’t all share the same sense of humour.

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Elizabeth Bricknell

Elizabeth Bricknell is a Winnipegger living in Toronto who has written for Variety, Now Magazine, The Globe and Mail, and various community rags. She is a sporadic court reporter working on her first novel, raising her eight-year-old son, and writing letters to editors.