Three Picture Books About the Klondike Gold Rush

For today’s picture book reviews I’m taking a look at three very different books set during the Klondike Gold Rush (1896-1899). I’ll cover them in the chronological order of their publication dates. If you know of other picture books set during this period of Canadian history, please let me know!

Who Wants Rocks? by Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak, illustrated by Vladyana Langer Krykorka (Annick Press, 1999)

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This picture book addresses a specific aspect of the Gold Rush: the destruction of nature. Old Joe is a prospector who never gets rich, but when he finds a little gold and hollers about it, people flock to the area. Soon the mountains (which are personified) are all in danger of being dug into oblivion. One day Old Joe yells “Rocks!” instead of “Gold!” causing the confused reply, “Who wants rocks?” When he eventually settles down in a little cabin, Old Joe realizes that he is living in the most beautiful place he’s ever seen and if it weren’t for rocks people would have torn it all down. This book does not include a historical note or mention the Klondike Gold Rush by name, though it does refer to “Yukon Territory in Canada’s great Arctic.” Parents might object to the phrase “thank god [sic] for rocks,” which is repeated four times at the end of the book. The illustrations are pen and watercolours. Recommended for ages 5 to 7.

Arizona Charlie and the Klondike Kid by Julie Lawson, illustrated by Kasia Charko (Orca Book Publishers, 2003)

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This book is based on the career of Arizona Charlie, who built the Palace Grand Theatre in Dawson City, Yukon, where he hosted exhibitions like vaudeville shows and sharpshooting. It tells the story of a fictional boy named Ben who wants to be just like Arizona Charlie. When he gets stage fright it seems like he’s lost his chance at fame and fortune, but he becomes a hero by stopping a thief. Arizona Charlie and the Klondike Kid is full of dramatic storytelling complemented by fun and expressive illustrations. If you’re looking for a book to introduce your kids to the boom towns of the Gold Rush, rather than the prospecting, this is a good place to start. It includes a short historical note about Arizona Charlie. Recommended for ages 5 to 8.

The Klondike Cat by Julie Lawson, illustrated by Paul Mombourquette (Kids Can Press, 2002)

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My favourite book of the three, this one follows Noah and his father as they travel to the Klondike to join the Gold Rush. After Noah sneaks his cat on board the ship, readers wonder what his father will do when he finds out. The story is full of detail, like specific place names, and the illustrations are beautiful paintings. It includes a detailed one-page historical note about the Klondike Gold Rush. Recommended for ages 5 to 9.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

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