I am not, particularly, a hockey fan, but I love Roch Carrier’s book, The Hockey Sweater. I read this picture book as a child and then again a number of times as an adult. I am neither a boy (like our protagonist) or a hockey fan, but I understand and appreciate the deeply rooted struggles between the French and the English people of Canada. At the heart of this book, the story is driven less by the mix up of a hockey sweater from Eaton’s, and I would even argue hockey, as it is with identity and overwhelming cultural oppression. The constant presence of the Catholic church in the background is a poignant depiction of the power of religion in the shaping of a regional and national identity.
From the offset we see the Church looming over the skating rink as a place of acceptance. The angel statue is holding her arms open in welcome. The curator of the church is the ref, so religion and pastime is inextricably linked. All the children are dressed the same and the herd mentality is prevalent.
When the boy gets his new parcel from the post office there is a large poster behind him that depicts the Poste Royale with the duelling French and English symbols. A little foreshadowing.
When our protagonist is ostracized for wearing a Leaf’s jersey (the dominant and over bearing English cultural that represses the French) he is seen as a traitor, I would argue on a much larger scale than only that of hockey fanatics. He is a traitor to his culture. Can you be truly French if you wear a Leaf’s jersey? Are you a traitor to the small French community by succumbing to the lifestyle or aesthetics of the greater English community? I find the story terribly sad.
The penultimate image of the boy walking to the church leaves the angel statue out. It is far less welcoming a place than before now that the young boy’s allegiance is in question.
The final painting of the protagonist hanging his head low, alone in the church, up on the balcony, is a poignant remark on personal conflict and shame. He has become an outcast. How does one stay pure to their culture when it is so often infringed upon by another?
This is a contemporary, pop-cultural, relevant and amusing way to depict a long and arduous conflict between the French and English speaking members of our country. I love teaching it in my history classes. When you get past the hockey (if you are inclined to do so) and see it as a smokescreen there is so much happening!
The picture book medium is amazing. Children are so lucky to have these books, whether they are fully comprehending, or not, the themes within. If only more adults gave children the credit they are due, as authors and illustrators do, the world would be a better place. 🙂
By Leigha Chiasson-Locke