Of all the days in the year in Canada that we celebrate or commemorate, Remembrance Day is the one that means the most to me. Other seasonal occasions, like Christmas, hold fond places in my heart, filled as they are with memories of friends and family, and my unnatural love of winter, twinkle lights, and all the Who’s down in Whoville. Remembrance Day, on the other hand, engages me emotionally and spiritually like no other day of the calendar. No cards or presents are exchanged, no fireworks, no hollowed-out pumpkins. It is the one day set aside for quiet reflection, not on our lives but the lives of others who participated in the wars of the 20th century and beyond, who even now are buried in fields where poppies blow. I have no direct experience with war, other than through my brother-in-law whose mother was taken from her Polish village and brought to Germany as a labourer, and his father, who fought with the exiled Polish army all over Europe and the Middle East. I am not a war nut; the specificities of battles and campaigns do not interest me, but I do wonder why people do the things they do. How decisions, large and small, play out through time.
Funny. I live in one of the most northern cities in the world. As I write this, the landscape is bleached of colour, the snow is piled higher than in recent memory, and in spite of the arrival of spring a few days ago, the temperature refuses to inch above zero. And yet, one of the finest African picture books, from one of the finest African storytellers originates from this winter city. Flipping through the pages of The Orphan Boy, a book that has been in my possession for almost twenty years, I am once again beguiled by the poetry of Tololwa Mollel’s words as he recounts the Maasai legend of the planet Venus. It is enough to warm my blood, but in unison with Paul Morin’s wondrous paintings of Africa, I feel spirited out of my down-filled parka to the arid farmlands of Tanzania, gazing up at the star-filled night in the company of an old man who is destined to meet a very unsual boy.