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on 28 January 2010
`A Prairie Boy's Winter' has garnered numerous awards since its publication in 1973: Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book; A New York Times Best Illustrated Book; and, A New York Times Outstanding Book. Support for the publication of this children's book was received from the Canada Council for the Arts. Financial support was received from the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program.

William Kurelek (1927-1977) was a Canadian realist artist (landscape painter and highly regarded illustrator of children's books) and writer--the eldest of seven children born to Ukrainian immigrant parents in Alberta, Canada. He received an arts degree from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, in 1949; studied at the Ontario College of Art; and, at the Instituto Allende in Mexico. In the 1950s, he lived in England, and from 1956 to 1958 his paintings were exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions.

His art and writings were based on his Ukrainian-Canadian roots, his childhood on the prairies, and his Roman Catholic religion (he converted from Ukrainian Orthodox in 1957). Since religion was a very real, important part of his life and a source of inspiration for his works, many of his paintings have titles with quotes from Biblical scriptures, and even his initial "W" on his artwork shows a cross.

In 1976, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. When he died a year later, he was Canada's best-known painter. His four children's books received 22 major national and international awards. By the time of his death, Kurelek had produced over 2,000 paintings.

His books have been published in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Holland and Greenland.

Tundra has published two of Kurelek's books since his death: Fox Mykyta, the great Ukrainian folk tale (based on a Ukrainian fairy tale by Ukrainian poet and author Ivan Franko), which he illustrated with 72 drawings; and, The Polish Canadians, his series of paintings of the early struggles and courage of that immigrant group. Although his ambition was to paint the history of all of Canada's varied peoples, he succeeded in only in the following: Inuit, Irish, French-Canadians, Ukrainians, and Poles, as well as of Christians and Jews. The rock band Van Halen used parts of his painting The Maze (1953) on the cover of its 1981 album, Fair Warning. The Maze is available through libraries.

The National Film Board of Canada has put out a video, Kurelek, which is ten minutes in length and touches on the artist/writer's life.

Currently in the making is a feature-length documentary film, `William Kurelek: The People's Painter.' It has received initial funding from Bravo Television and the Canadian Television Fund for research and development. His widow, Jean Kurelek, her family, and Av Isaacs, Kurelek's art dealer, support the Kurelek film project.

Completion should be in early 2010. Award-winning Ukrainian-Canadian director Halya Kuchmij has thirty years' experience at the CBC and the National Film Board. She has won over 50 awards nationally and internationally. For a more detailed description of the film and Halya Kuchmij, please read the July 13, 2008 issue of The Ukrainian Weekly.

Kurelek's stories and artwork are based on real-life experiences--he grew up on a grain farm in Alberta and on a dairy farm in Manitoba. The main character in `A Prairie Boy's Winter' is named William (as is he); the vignettes narrated are also a repertoire from his past, making the book autobiographical in a real sense.

Each of the twenty vignettes ("his writing was always tied to his art") relates a unique winter's story of life on a farm on the Canadian prairie as experienced by eleven or twelve-year old William, and is colorfully illustrated on the facing page.

The opening vignette introduces the departure of fall (which was marked annually by the flight of crows as they escaped the harsh Canadian prairie winters) and the arrival of winter (witnessed by the first snowfall). We learn that during this transition of seasons, William was in his behavior like children all over the world.

Join him on his rounds as he feeds the farm pigs. Learn how to play a game of Fox and Geese--a game handed down to farm children through the generations. Learn why and how he helps make a hockey rink (even though he didn't like hockey or any rough sport) and experience some of the hockey hassles that ensue.

What question did William and his brother, John, often ask as they set rabbit traps? Learn why William enjoyed the drive across the frozen fields to the haystacks, but not the work after he arrived. Hauling hay was no easy task--how did William turn the job into a sport? What farm chore was limited to once a day since it was such an ordeal for both man and beast? Learn the best way to catch a chicken in the snow.

Although William didn't care for hockey or rink skating, there was a fun sport that he enjoyed--what was it? Which winter farm chore did William never really like? What would arrive, usually unexpectedly, every winter? What would William's father say in Ukrainian--to what was he referring? During the winter, what would William and his school friends really enjoy doing during school recess? Following a blizzard, how was milk delivered to the town five miles away? How was the snow different on balmy, late winter days? How did William know when spring was on its way? What were the two signs that told William that winter was finally over?

Five months later, winter's sojourn would end. William shares his tenth or eleventh Canadian prairie winter in a personal, poignant way--as a father might, passing on his childhood recollections to his kids. Relive winter's 1930s history on Canada's prairie as seen through the eyes of a special, sensitive young artist. Kurelek's artistic illustrations enhance and enliven the characters and vignettes.

Author and illustrator William Kurelek dedicated his book "for everyone who ever spent a winter on the prairies--and for all the others who wonder what it was like." Wonder will metamorphosize into marvel as you read, learn and experience William's life's adventures--for what city child or adult hasn't wondered about life on a winter prairie?

A companion book, award-winning `A Prairie Boy's Summer,' is a delightful way to continue sharing in William's adventures on the Canadian prairie--this time, during summer. Why not purchase both books at the same time?

A five-star recommendation for a classic children's book sure to be reread and enjoyed often by both young and old!

P. S. Readers, you're invited to view 152 images (photos) of Ukraine taken by me and posted on Amazon.co.uk (the 2003 edition of Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine by Anna Reid). I actually took thousands of photos, but this sample will give you an idea of Ukraine and her people.

Although there are more (179 total) photos on Amazon.com, the quality of the photos is bad--many of them show specs. My photos do not have specs. There is something wrong with Amazon.com's software. The photos on Amazon.co.uk are better quality (without specs).
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