While Anne of Green Gables continues to dwell in the imaginations of children and adults, the Canadian heirs of Anne author Lucy Maud Montgomery are generating new dreams and distractions for juvenile readers. And for those who find holiday shopping no more enticing or magical than an evening at the laundromat, the new books for young people can provide an eye-catching and entertaining antidote to gift-buying overload. This year’s sprightly selection of children’s titles ranges from the basic ABCs to a primer on labor unions. The following books, most of them Canadian, promise to intrigue children of all ages—and to win the hearts of the adults who shop for them.
Chase: For the third year in a row, Montreal author/illustrator Stéphane Poulin has produced one of the season’s finest picture books. In his 1986 story, Have You Seen Josephine?, a small boy named Daniel pursues his runaway cat through the patchwork streets of inner-city Montreal. Now, in Can You Catch Josephine? (Tundra Books, $12.95), Daniel unwittingly brings his pudgy, wilful pet to school in his knapsack. Josephine leads him on a chase through the corridors, which ends in the office of the school principal—who happens to be a closet catlover herself. The book’s great strength is its artwork. While many children’s book illustrations suffer from an excess of pastel cuteness, Poulin uses overcast colors to paint figures with expressive faces. His artwork has an unconventional beauty—and considerable wit. In one classroom picture, Josephine is easy to miss at first glance. But a closer look reveals a furry paw poking through a desk’s inkwell holder.
Spirited: Visually, Franklin Hammond’s Ten Little Ducks (Groundwood Books, $9.95) is more conventional than Poulin’s Josephine books. But author/ illustrator Hammond has created a spirited work that performs double duty as a counting book and a bedtime story for very young children: it starts with one duck playing in the rain and ends with 10 ducks tucked into bed. The book features brightly colored, soft-edged pictures and captions with such kid-pleasing sound effects as “Six little ducks scrubbing in the tub/ gurgle, glub, bubble, rub.”
On a less exuberant note, one of the year’s best read-aloud books acknowledges that childhood is not all sweet-
ness and light. Deep Thinker And The Stars (Three Trees Press, $5.95 paper, $14.95 cloth) is a deft and gentle tale about a Canadian Indian girl’s response to the death of her grandfather and the birth of her brother. Patricia Murdoch’s text and Kellie Jobson’s brown and yellow illustrations tell the story of Sharon, who is also known
by her special native name, Deep Thinker. She sees a resemblance between her new brother and one of her grandfathers—whom she remembers and misses deeply—and she resolves that the baby’s special name should reflect that fact. Straightforward but lyrical, Deep Thinker And The Stars is a spellbinding book.
For sheer virtuosity of graphic de-
sign, few alphabet books can rival Animalia (Irwin Publishing, $17.95), by Australian illustrator Graeme Base. Witty, beautifully intricate pictures celebrate each letter with such scenes as “meticulous mice monitoring mysterious mathematical messages.” In addition to the mice staring intently at computer screens, that illustration
contains dozens of other objects starting with M. Spotting the mug, the marble and the monster—or the zany Zulus zigzagging in zinc zeppelins on another page—should provide hours of entertainment.
By the time most children have been in school for a few years, they have developed a mind-broadening appetite for nonfiction. Slime and science
join forces in Magic Mud and Other Great Experiments (Greey de Pencier Books, $8.95) by Gordon Penrose—better known to his young readers as the mad scientist Dr. Zed. In one of the 21 kitchen-sink laboratory experiments in his new book, Penrose uses what he calls “magic mud”—a goo made from cornstarch, water and food coloring— to illustrate that something can be a liquid and a solid at the same time. For children more interested in commerce than science, there is Money: An Amazing Investigation (Greey de Pencier Books, $8.95) by Eve Drobot. The lucid, rapid-fire text combines practical material on how banking works with trivia tidbits—including the unwieldy currency still used by the Yap Islanders of the Pacific Ocean: huge doughnut-shaped stones that “weigh as much as a compact car.”
Snappy: Another book focusing on the workaday world is Pay Cheques and Picket Lines (Kids Can Press, paper $12.95, cloth $19.95). Explanations of how 19th-century Irishman Capt. Charles Boycott gave his name to a labor dispute tactic— and of the medieval origins of the term “shop steward” —are among the many anecdotes that Pay Cheques delivers with snappy quiz-show punch. Aimed at middlegrade readers, the punridden text by Claire Mackay is a lively guide to the history, purpose, operation and future of frequently unpopular or misunderstood institutions. While clearly written from a labor perspective, it is a thoughtful, fair-minded work.
For more adventurous moods, children will enjoy Janet Foster’s Journey to the Top of the World (Greey de Pencier Books, $12.95), a glistening account of a high-arctic odyssey. Foster’s diary takes young readers from herds of unicorn-like narwhals at Pond Inlet to melted pools on vast icebergs—and to towns where the northern lights and the midnight sun hang in the sky. Although Foster’s simple photographs of arctic diving expeditions, shaggy musk-oxen and moist-eyed seal pups often pale beside her ingenuous text, Journey is a coffee-table book for children.
With the torch relay for the Calgary Winter Olympics already under way in Canada, one of the most timely nonfic-
tion titles of the season is Paulette Bourgeois’s On Your Mark, Get Set: All About the Olympics Then & Now (Kids Can Press, $9.95). Moving from the starting block of the ancient Greek Olympics through the hurdles of terrorism, racism and superpower quarrelling that have created problems for the modern-day Games, the book is a funny—and frank—look at the rush for gold. Bourgeois’s fascination with the individual challenges of each sport makes for entertaining reading about what to watch for in 1988.
• School-age sports fans will find that Martyn Godfrey’s novel Baseball Crazy (James Lorimer & Co., $4.95 paper,
$14.95 cloth) covers all the bases: it combines Hardy Boys’ adventure with dashes of comic-book humor and the glamor of real-life sports heroes. Fourteen-year-old Brent Hutchins enters a contest and wins two weeks at the Toronto Blue Jays spring training camp in Florida. When George Bell, Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield go into an early season slump after their prized gloves disappear, Brent tracks down the culprit in Disney World. Baseball Crazy is a fast-paced hit.
Exciting: For adolescent readers, there is also a rich selection of both fiction and fact. False Face (Groundwood Books, $12.95) is a frightening novel by Welwyn Wilton Katz. Thirteen-year-old Laney McIntyre is having a hard enough time dealing with her parents’ divorce and her obnoxious older sister. When Laney discovers some ancient Iroquois artifacts preserved in a bog near her home in London, Ont., her troubles intensify.
Among the seemingly harmless objects are two masks—relics that generate mysterious and dangerous powers. Steeped in Indian mythology and modern-day family drama, False Face is terrifying and exciting.
Fire: Dragons are normally terrifying in their own right, but Nonesuch, the mild-mannered hero of Donn Kushner’s fantasy novel A Book Dragon (Macmillan, $16.95), is a sensitive serpent for the 1980s. Nonesuch lives in England with his grandmother in the 15th century—a time when dragons can no longer breathe fire and are trying to stop eating humans. After one of his grandmothers dies, Nonesuch stops eating altogether and shrinks to the size of a dragonfly. He is blown into a nearby monastery, where he becomes the guardian of a hand-painted manuscript. For the next five centuries Nonesuch travels with the book as it moves around Britain and to present-day North America. Along the way, Kushner, a microbiology professor at the University of Ottawa, touches on such subjects as the bubonic plague and the greed of a modern real estate developer. Kushner blends wildly diverse elements into a cohesive narrative: A Book Dragon is a worthwhile challenge not only for older children but for their parents.
For both adults and young people there is a compelling heroine in Little By Little (Penguin Books, $14.95), by young peoples’ author Jean Little. In the semiautobiographical account of her youth in the Orient and Guelph, Ont., Little writes about how the handicap of nearblindness complicated her quest to fit in. Learning to ignore such epithets as “cross-eyed,” she delved into the fantasy world of books, nose pressed firmly to the page in order to see the words. Little’s inspiring and often humorous book focuses on the joy and pain of growing up—the time of learning, as Little writes, “how close laughter is to tears.” That paradox, and countless other thought-provoking notions that lie between the covers of the season’s new books, will give young minds material to ponder in the months and years to come.
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