Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence Critical Context - Essay

Esther Averill

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence is an American Library Association Notable Book and a revision of Averill’s earlier The Voyages of Jacques Cartier (1937). Averill intended the book for older children. Because of Rojankovsky’s numerous illustrations, the design resembles a picture book. These drawings will help readers visualize the narrative. The charts are particularly helpful in showing the location of Cartier’s discoveries.

Readers will understand Cartier’s place in history as the explorer who claimed the Canadian wilderness for France. Cartier came after John Cabot, who discovered Newfoundland, and before Samuel Champlain, who established a permanent settlement in 1608 at Quebec, near the site of Chief Donnacona’s village. Averill acknowl-edges that some scholars believe that the Vikings and possibly other people of ancient times preceded Cartier to Canada, but proof is absent. Cartier, on the other hand, left his personal logbooks of his three voyages in the sixteenth century. Yet very little is known about Cartier. Averill acknowledges her indebtedness to historical researchers such as Dr. H. P. Biggar, who searched for pieces of information from libraries, from official records, and from the royal papers of the kings of the time.

Lacking information about Cartier, Averill emphasizes Cartier’s known accomplishments in her biography, relying heavily on Cartier’s own words. Clearly, Cartier’s interest lies in a factual recording of where he sailed, what he saw, and what he found. He does not indulge in extravagant phrasing or fanciful speculation. Averill’s unadorned writing style appropriately retells Cartier’s story. Thus Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence serves as a valuable educational tool for young readers who have little knowledge of this explorer of the New World.