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The Cremation of Sam McGee [Hardcover]

Robert Service , Ted Harrison
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 1 2006
In 1986 Kids Can Press published an edition of Robert Service's "The Cremation of Sam McGee" illustrated by painter Ted Harrison, who used his signature broad brushstrokes and unconventional choice of color to bring this gritty narrative poem to life. Evoking both the spare beauty and the mournful solitude of the Yukon landscape, Harrison's paintings proved the perfect match for Service's masterpiece about a doomed prospector adrift in a harsh land. Harrison's Illustrator's Notes on each page enhanced both poem and illustrations by adding valuable historical background. Upon its original publication, many recognized the book as an innovative approach to illustrating poetry for children. For years The Cremation of Sam McGee has stood out as a publishing landmark, losing none of its appeal both as a read-aloud and as a work of art. Kids Can Press proudly publishes this deluxe hardcover twentieth anniversary edition -- complete with a spot-varnished cover, new cover art and heavy coated stock -- of a book that remains as entrancing as a night sky alive with the vibrant glow of the Northern Lights.

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No artist has painted the cold like Ted Harrison. In The Cremation of Sam McGee, the surrealist painter and children's illustrator from the Yukon brings Robert W. Service's famous poem to life in a palette of icy blues, blistering mauves, and searing pinks. Although originally written for adults, Service's turn-of-the-century ballad of a Tennessee gold digger who will do anything to get out of the Yukon's "cursed cold" has always appealed to a youthful sense of the ridiculous. In the tradition of the tall tales of Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed, The Cremation of Sam McGee tells of how the dying McGee (fearing "the icy grave that pains") exacts a promise from the narrator to cremate him after he's gone. Harrison's bold, stark paintings capture the narrator's increasing sense of desperation as he dogsleds across the dark and silent tundra in search of a suitable crematorium for his "frozen chum." Of course, the joke is that once in the boiling furnace of a derelict ship, Sam wakes up and with a "smile you could see a mile" asks his companion to "'Please close that door. / It's fine in here, / but I greatly fear you'll let in the cold and storm -- / Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, / it's the first time I've been warm."

While the design of this 1986 picture book is a little stodgy and old-fashioned, the magic of Service's knee-smacking verses, combined with Harrison's dazzling art, is timeless. As Pierre Berton writes in the introduction, it "represents a happy marriage between the most eloquent of the Yukon poets and the most brilliant of the Yukon artists." --Lisa Alward --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

[Gorgeously illustrated ? [A wonderful new edition ... Harrison’s pictures are startling and memorable

There are strange things done in the midnight sun By the men who moil for books; The Arctic trails have their secret tales that could give you second looks, The Northern Lights have seen their sights But the wisest they ever did see Was the day in’06, complete with great pix They reissued Sam McGee.

No poem that I can think of, especially a comic one, was ever rendered so electrifyingly in paint

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars part of growing up Jan. 29 2001
Format:Hardcover
I think just about anyone who has taken a literature class has been ENCOURAGED...[required] to memorize this poem.
And it's a darn good poem; tells a story that sounds, [especially to a younger person, very real].
Robert Service has always been like...the 'other' Jack London. These two authors should be, [if not already], required reading in any English/Literature class taught.
This particular poem was always a good one to have memorized--- in order to recite it around the campfire at a Boy Scout camping trip. Just seeing the title in print brings back fond memories.
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By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The Cremation of Sam Magee is definatley Robert Services funniest poems ever, it shows a master genius at work and I shall always remember the words "Strange things are done in the midnight sun by the men who mole for gold" This book is a definate buy!!! I shall keep this book till the day I die
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5.0 out of 5 stars five stars Feb. 15 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
a classic every Canadian child should Know , her dad and mom remembered it and were reading it to her .
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully illustrated Aug. 12 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I absolutely love this poem, and this edition, with its beautiful illustrations, makes the poem come to life. An instant classic.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  29 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new version of the classic poem for the next generation March 20 2005
By Lawrance M. Bernabo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.

Talk about a blast from the past, I have to think that Robert W. Service's poem "The Cremation fo Sam McGee" is one of those poems that every school child of my generation had to read. Service was a Canadian poet and novelist, known for his ballads of the Yukon. This would be his best-known narrative poem, with "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" coming in second. Check out "The Face On The Barroom Floor," "My Maddona" or "The Men That Don't Fit In" for excellent examples of his non-narrative verse. Service was not a classical poet, but rather a poet of the people. You certainly cannot imagine the likes of Keats, Shelley or even Frost pulling off a punch line like Service provides with this poem.

The story being told in "The Cremation of Sam McGee" is certainly captivating for a young audience, who should be hooked just by the subject revealed in the poem's title. Sam McGee hailed from Tennessee and when he faces death in the frozen north he makes a single request of the narrator:

"Yet 'tain't being dead -- it's my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;

So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you'll cremate my last remains."

If there is one thing young people appreciate about life on the frontier, or life in elementary school, it is that friends have to stick by each other. So when he comes to the marge of Lake Lebarge and the derelict of the "Alice May," he keeps his promise to Sam McGee.

Like Robert Service, artist Ted Harrison was also born in England and when he arrived in the Yukon in 1968 his art underwent a major transformation. Instead of working in a representational manner Harrison simplified his forms, adding rhythms and colors to create the style seen in the illustrations he provides for Service's classic poem. Most of these illustrations are full-page in this oversized volume, which will allow young students in the back row to see them (assuming students are gathered around the teacher in a semi-circle and still not tied to their desks). Like the poet, the artist is committed to communicating the spell of the Yukon so that others thousands of miles away can appreciate how it continues to be one of the "few places on this earth that still satisfy the imagination and nourish the soul."
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Service should be remembered along with Poe and Steinback Nov. 5 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Cremation of Sam Magee is definatley Robert Services funniest poems ever, it shows a master genius at work and I shall always remember the words "Strange things are done in the midnight sun by the men who mole for gold" This book is a definate buy!!! I shall keep this book till the day I die
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most wonderful Canadian folk story March 6 2006
By Anthony Yanow - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a kid growing up in Ontario I heard this poem a million times. Now that I have a daughter of my own, I absolutely love sharing it with her. This is Service's masterpiece and it is beautifully accompanied by Ted Harrison's inspired paintings. We enjoy looking at the pictures as much as rolling through the perfectly paced tale of the gold rush. Anthony Yanow
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars part of growing up Jan. 29 2001
By "irishcowboy" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I think just about anyone who has taken a literature class has been ENCOURAGED...[required] to memorize this poem.
And it's a darn good poem; tells a story that sounds, [especially to a younger person, very real].
Robert Service has always been like...the 'other' Jack London. These two authors should be, [if not already], required reading in any English/Literature class taught.
This particular poem was always a good one to have memorized--- in order to recite it around the campfire at a Boy Scout camping trip. Just seeing the title in print brings back fond memories.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WORLD CLASS Dec 23 2006
By D. Blankenship - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Robert Service, if anyone, could be called "the grandfather of cowboy poets." This has been a popular genre over the past few years and much of the work done by these wonderful men and women can be traced back to Service's poems and style. Being called the "Bard of the Yukon" is certainly true, but sells this particular writer short. His works include so much more that just the delightful poems of the Canadian Territory. Simply written, with a story, they are quite a delight for both old and young alike. I recent years, some of our elitist in our academic world have been less than kind to this poet. This is all well and good with me. They simply don't get it. Service's work will quite likely endure far longer than some of the ranting I read in the professional journals. I read these poems to young folks in my classes, and they seldom fail to delight and indeed, inspire. It is difficult to go wrong with this one. Highly recommend.
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