The fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears illustrates an essential truth about children: they become opinionated at a tender age. Just as the bears’ tiny uninvited guest was quick to find one bowl of porridge too hot and another too cold, many children will dismiss some of the
presents given to them during the holiday season. But books remain a relatively safe option. Once again, Canadian children’s authors and illustrators have produced an amusing and inventive array of volumes. Young children may favor visually engaging stories about a Florida vacation and a rebellious sheep, while older siblings may want to travel back in time or into the heart of a tropical jungle. And like Goldilocks and the porridge, those who shop for a children’s book this year will, in the end, find something that is just right.
One of the season’s best picture books has nothing to do with turkey or tree-trimming but it is bound to put youngsters and their parents in a holiday mood. Dayal Kaur Khalsa’s My Family Vacation (Tundra, $14.95) is a witty, original book about a typical family trip to
Florida in the 1950s. May’s first vacation is seen from her point of view—the back seat of the family car. Everything is exciting to her, especially the souvenirs. She collects miniature bars of soap, postcards, sugar packets, paper place mats and tiny pink paper umbrellas from the kitschy stores and roadside motels along
the way. Khalsa’s colorful artwork—solid blocks of saturated color—will enchant young readers, while nostalgic details, like saddle shoes and ’50s-style cars, will prompt parents to take a fond look back at their own childhood vacations.
Animal stories have long been a staple of children’s literature, and this season is no different. Amos’s Sweater (Groundwood, $12.95)—the first book for young children by perennial preteen favorite Janet Lunn—spins an endearing yam about an ornery sheep. Poor old, cold Amos gets angry when Aunt Hattie shears his wool to make Uncle Henry a warm sweater. Kim LaFave’s soft, scribbly illustrations depict a baleful shorn sheep, blue with cold and covered only with stubble and bandages. After Amos attacks the unattended
sweater and winds up inside it, his owners decide that the old fellow deserves to keep the rewards of his own wool. In the end, the colorfully cloaked Amos stands apart from the rest of the flock, warmer and much happier.
Award-winning author/illustrator Stéphane Poulin has produced the other outstanding animal picture book of the season. Could You Stop Josephine? (Tundra, $12.95) is the third (and, according to the author, final) story about the nimble cat Josephine and her young owner, Daniel. This time, Daniel leaves his native Montreal to celebrate his cousin’s birthday in the country—and Josephine slips unnoticed into the trunk of the car. As in the earlier Josephine books, the cat runs away. After chasing her through cow pastures, pigpens and wheatfields, the boys catch up to an overstuffed Josephine contentedly finishing off the remains of the birthday picnic. The book’s greatest strength is its artwork, which pays loving and often humorous attention to such details as the cracks in the rural roads and Daniel’s tousled, straw-colored hair.
Anyone who reads to a child is sure to appreciate books that will charm adults as well as little ones. Night Cars (Groundwood, $13.95) makes a great gift for any sleepy parent with a wakeful toddler. “Once there was a baby who wouldn’t go to sleep,” begins the story of a wide-eyed child who is intrigued by the changing night sounds of the city. Author Teddy Jam’s lulling cadences make better sounds than sense: “Slow snow falling deep/Cars dogs babies sleep.” The richly detailed illustrations g by Eric Beddows provide an p overhead view of the street, 1 filled with neon-lit storefronts, > shadowy cars dusted with g snow, and a speeding, scream| ing fire engine. Come morning, § father and son venture into the ~ Donut Café for hot chocolate for baby—and coffee for Dad.
Night Cars beautifully evokes
the warmth between a parent and child suspended in a magical nighttime world.
Another book that is perfect for bedtime and other quiet moments is Simon and the Snowflakes (Tundra, $9.95). Whimsically written and illustrated by Gilles Tibo, it tells the story of a boy who tries—unsuccessfully—to perform such difficult tasks as counting the snowflakes in a storm. Tibo’s stylized, dusky watercolors perfectly complement the gentle fantasy of the story. On one page, a snowman offers sage advice; on another, a friend steadies a ladder while Simon precariously plucks stars from the sky.
While evenings are suited to stories of lyrical beauty, daytime is for playtime. The Henry Moore of Plasticine, Barbara Reid has won numerous awards for her illustrations using
that medium. Now, she shares the secrets of her art in one of the best activity books of the year, Playing With Plasticine (Kids Can Press, $9.95). Illustrated with her own creations, the how-to guide begins with basic snake and pancake shapes and progresses to more complex bird, bug and human forms.
The book’s wonderfully diverse inventory ranges from two-headed monsters to bacon and eggs.
Budding scientists and aspiring athletes will both find food for thought in How Sport Works, compiled by the Ontario Science Centre and edited by Carol Gold (Kids Can Press, $9.95). Covering such topics as why people get stitches in their sides when they laugh too much, and why golf balls have dimples, the book is a fascinating mixture of information and simple experiments. Clever cartoonlike illustrations add to the fun of this enjoyable learning experience for the preteen set.
For eightto 12-year-olds with a growing curiosity in the natural world, Birdwise (Kids Can Press, $9.95) provides a splendid introduction to ornithology. Writing under the auspices
of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, Pamela M. Hickman uses a question-and-answer format to explain why birds live in different habitats, and other intriguing facts. The task-
oriented book gives advice on everything from collecting feathers to helping injured birds.
Children who would rather travel beyond the backyard may be interested in Journey Through a Tropical Jungle (Greey de Pencier,
$12.95). With skilful photography and a straightfoward text, biologist Adrian Forsyth presents a wondrous real-life realm guaranteed to captivate maturing minds. In his trek through the Costa Rican rain forest, he encounters luminous mushrooms, saucer-sized spiders and belly-flopping lizards. Photographs range from close-up views of a mother scorpion’s back, scrambling with offspring, to green and steamy mountain vistas. Forsyth also discusses economic and ecological pressures on the region and argues for the preservation of the bewitching world of the rain forest.
Preserving the Canadian heritage is a more abstract matter, but The Canadian Children’s Treasury (Key Porter, $29.95) does a fine job of conveying the diversity of the nation’s literature. The rich collection of stories, songs and poems by 35 best-loved authors spans the country’s geography and history as it also entertains. It mixes excerpts from such classics as L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables with Indian legends, science fiction and Dennis Lee’s rollicking nonsense verse. Unfortunately, most of the illustrations—by various artists—have a greeting-card quality that detracts from the strength of the writing.
Canadian history provides a dramatic backdrop for Martyn Godfrey’s Mystery in the Frozen Lands (Lorimer, $9.95), a gripping Arctic adventure for adolescents. Peter Griffin is a ship’s boy on the Fox, a member of the 40th rescue party to set out from England to solve a great historical puzzle: the fate of Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition. The novel takes the form of a journal written by 14-year-old Peter in 1858-1859. The boy’s diary chronicles the hardship of life on the tiny ship, frozen in a foreign sea—the long darkness, the relentless cold—and re-creates in fictional form real-life encounters between the British and the Inuit. In one vivid scene, the searchers give needles and scissors to Inuit hunters in exchange for information about Franklin.
A more recent period provides the setting for Easy Avenue (Groundwood, $12.95). Ottawa’s Brian Doyle delivers a delightful mix of comedy, irony and sentiment in a tale about a poor boy who gains a mysterious benefactor. Set in Ottawa in the late 1940s, the book features 13-year-old Hubbo O’Driscoll, who lives with his spirited guardian aunt at the Uplands Emergency Shelter, a cramped barracks set up to house families during the postwar housing crisis. Hubbo’s moral dilemmas—whether to forsake his impoverished friends in order to join an exclusive club at school and whether he can overcome his snobbism and introduce his cleaning-lady aunt to his wealthy after-school employer—are sketched with keen insight and sly humor. While Doyle’s well-paced plot and eccentric characters pay homage to Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, he creates an engaging story of his own. Like many of the other new books for children and young people, Easy Avenue offers ample cause for rejoicing in a gift-giving season.
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