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Northwest Passage

Written by Stan Rogers

Illustrated by Matt James

  • 56 Pages
  • 9781554981533
  • 12.25" x 9.25"
  • Reading age from 6
  • JUVENILE NONFICTION / History / Exploration & Discovery
  • JUVENILE NONFICTION / Music / Popular
  • JUVENILE NONFICTION / People & Places / Polar Regions


Publication Date September 01, 2013

Winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Illustration

Award-winning artist Matt James takes the iconic song "Northwest Passage" by legendary Canadian songwriter and singer Stan Rogers and tells the dramatic story of the search for the elusive route through the Arctic Ocean to the Pacific, which for hundreds of years and once again today, nations, explorers and commercial interests have dreamt of conquering, often with tragic consequences.

For hundreds of years explorers attempted to find the Northwest Passage - a route through Canada's northern waters to the Pacific Ocean and Asia. Others attempted to find a land route. Many hundreds of men perished in the attempt, until finally, in 1906, Roald Amundsen completed the voyage by ship. Today global warming has brought interest in the passage back to a fever pitch as nations contend with each other over its control and future uses.

The historic search inspired Canadian folk musician Stan Rogers to write "Northwest Passage", a song that has become a widely known favorite since its 1981 release. It describes Stan's own journey overland as he contemplates the arduous journeys of some of the explorers, including Kelsey, Mackenzie, Thompson and especially Franklin. The song is moving and haunting, a paean to the adventurous spirit of the explorers and to the beauty of the vast land and icy seas.

The lyrics are accompanied by the striking paintings of multiple award-winning artist Matt James. Matt brings a unique vision to the song and the history behind it, providing commentary on the Franklin expedition and its failure to heed the wisdom of Inuit living in the North. The book also contains the music for the song (as well as a final verse that was never recorded), maps, a timeline of Arctic exploration, mini-biographies and portraits of the principal explorers, and suggestions for further reading.

Following on the success of Canadian Railroad Trilogy, this is another beautiful book in which a memorable song illuminates a fascinating history that has taken on new resonance today.

Winner of the Governor General's Literary Awards for Children's Illustration 2013

Selected for the An Best Book 2013

Selected for the A Kirkus Best Book 2013

Short-listed for the Amelia Frances Howard‐Gibbon Award 2014


Stan Rogers

Matt James

Matt James is a noted painter, illustrator and musician. His books have won many awards, including the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award (I Know Here, written by Laurel Croza) and the Governor-General’s Award for Children’s Illustration (Northwest Passage). Matt lives in Toronto.


Star Review

"This stunning portrayal of early efforts to explore Canada’s Northwest Passage presents Rogers’ 1981 song in combination with glorious illustrations...Both realistic and allusive, these images are as haunting as the song. For U.S. readers, an illumination of a little-known history; for all Americans, a treasure." Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW

Star Review

"For a unique and exquisite view of the story of explorers’ search for a safe passage through the Arctic Ocean to the Pacific, look no further than this beautifully crafted title inspired by a well-known Canadian folk song." School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

"[T]he sweep of James’s paintings is spectacular; the invitation to 'make a Northwest Passage to the sea,' irresistible." Horn Book

"This is a dynamic and original introduction to the age of exploration." Library Media Connections