If there’s a quintessential Canadian children’s story, it might just be Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater.
Based on an experience from Carrier's childhood, this story is a perfectly-captured glimpse of rural Québec life in the 1940s. It weaves together snowy winters, hockey played on a frozen pond, and the glory of legendary hockey hero, Maurice Richard.
The Hockey Sweater was first written as an essay for CBC Radio in 1979.
“The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons,” the tale begins. “We lived in three places—the school, the church and the skating-rink.”
All Carrier and his friends could think about was hockey, and their favourite team, the Montreal Canadiens. If they weren’t playing hockey, they were at school dreaming of hockey, or in church praying to be as great a player as Richard.
Carrier’s mother ordered him a new Montreal Canadiens sweater from the Eaton Company department store—writing directly to Monsieur Eaton—but his excitement turned to horror when the package arrives. He was mistakenly sent the sweater of his team’s arch rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even worse, his mother insisted that he wear the sweater anyway.
What could be more mortifying for a young boy?
The Hockey Sweater is told from a child’s point of view with honesty, humour and heart. Its themes are timeless. We've all been so passionate about something, it's impossible to think of anything else. We've all idolized heroes. We've all wanted to fit in, and been humiliated when our parents made us do something so that we didn't.
(And, many of us have taken a side: the Canadiens or the Maple Leafs. In this household, it's the Canadiens, as you can tell from the jersey in the photo above!)
Carrier's essay was so charming, it was made into a much-loved National Film Board of Canada animated short called The Sweater in 1980, directed by Sheldon Cohen. In 1984, it was translated into English and published as a book, with vibrant, cheerful illustrations by Cohen. The book and film almost go hand-in-hand; I’ve seen the film so many times I can hear Carrier’s voice narrating when reading his prose.
The Hockey Sweater is a classic, whether you grew up with it or are reading it for the first time. I've just discovered that a special 30th anniversary edition was published in 2014 with original material from the author and illustrator, and stills from the animated film. I've put this collector's edition on my wish list!
Two kids, two cats, and a house full of books. We share our favourite picks for young readers.