The season offers literary delights for children of all ages and inclinations
A rich garden of new books
The season offers literary delights for children of all ages and inclinations
This fall, there is a fun house of new reading experiences for children of all ages. Maclean’s entertainment editors review some of the highlights:
WOODLAND CHRISTMAS (Scholastic, $16.99) retells the classic carol The Twelve Days of Christmas. But in the splendid version by illustrator Frances Tyrrell of Oakville, Ont., it is a young bear who courts his love, and the 12 gifts involve creatures of the northern woodlands: the eight maids a-milking are raccoons carrying buckets of Milky Way stardust, and the 10 lords a-leaping are—what else?—a herd of galloping moose, resplendent in velvet hats.
IN THE SNOW: WHO'S BEEN HERE? (Greenwillow/Macmillan, $22.95) takes a tour through the
winter woods and finds plenty of signs of animal life. American writer-illustrator Lindsay Barrett George has created big, in-yourface, realistic creatures to go with her curiosity-tweaking text. WILD IN THE CITY (Owl, $14.95) takes a walk on the mostly hidden wild side of urban life. Havelock, Ont., writer-illustrator Jan Thornhill has concocted an ingenious daisy-chain narrative—raccoons spot a nighthawk chasing a moth swallowed by a bat distracted by a skunk—and accompanied it with bold, primary-color illustrations.
KASHTANKA (Gulliver/Canadian Manda, $22) casts a winning spell with its atmospheric tale by Russian great Anton Chekhov, its positively sumptuous illustrations by native Russian Gennady Spirin, and the most adorable-looking pooch since Benji. When Kashtanka loses her beloved master, she joins the circus, only to be found by him again under the big top. A FISH TALE: OR, THE LITTLE ONE THAT COT AWAY (Groundwood, $17.95) is a clever yarn about a small-fry walleye who gets lured to the water’s surface. Award-winning Ottawa author and illustrator Leo Yerxa has written an engaging story full of ticklish wordplay about the seductive power of the unknown. And his luminously beautiful watercolors alone are worth the price of the book. THE TOAD SLEEPS OVER (Búngalo, $4.95) offers an unforgettable lesson
in what it calls the three Ts—‘Toads Taste Terrible.” In Canadian John Bianchi’s story, accompanied by his own wacky, cartoon-like illustrations, a young mouse invites a slime-spewing, insect-gulping toad for a sleep-over, much to his parents’ distress— until the toad wards off a prowling coyote (using the three Ts, of course).
MATH CURSE (Viking, $22) combines brain-teasing originality with zany humor about, of all things, arithmetic. Young math-phobes will howl, and probably learn something too, as they meander through the latest collaboration by New Yorkers Jon Scieszka (writer) and Lane Smith (illustrator), in which a child discovers, to his horror, that everything can be seen as a math problem. The team’s
earlier hits include The Stinky Cheese Man. CHILDREN JUST LIKE ME (Fenn, $19.95), published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of UNICEF, unites the young people of the world between two covers. And it does so with great warmth and a wealth of fascinating detail. The English husband-wife team of photographer Barnabas and writer Anabel Kindersley spent two years crisscrossing the globe to get to know 38 children—urbanites and country dwellers, comfortable and poor. Text and pictures describe their toys,
their school exercise books, their favorite foods, their families, their houses and their schools. All told, an unparalleled journey. THE CHILDREN OF CHINA: AN ARTIST'S JOURNEY (Tundra, $17.95) is a book to be savored over and over for its realistic but ravishing paintings of young people from China’s nomadic cultures. Montreal artist Song Nan Zhang, who accompanies his pictures with informative text about various tribes, writes that before he immigrated to Canada
in 1989, he was entranced by the colorful nomads because they “represented freedom in a country without freedom.” BIG BOY (Stoddart, $18.95) takes readers to East Africa with a simple but resonant tale by Edmontonian Tololwa Mollel, a native of Tanzania, and exquisite, evocative watercolors by Philadelphia artist E. B. Lewis. Although the book is steeped in African folklore, it resonates with a fundamental childish urge—the desire to be big. ZAZA'S BABY BROTHER (Candlewick/Groundwood,
$19.95) is honest playful and ultimately encouraging in the way it addresses the trauma of getting a new brother or sister. Briton Lucy Cousin, creator of the Maisy series, has produced another strikingly original book filled with delightfully childlike drawings and eye-zinging colors. GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU (Candlewick/Groundwood, $15.95) has deservedly become an international best-seller since it was first published in Britain last year. A clever blend of playfulness and emotion, Northern Ireland author Sam McBratney’s text consists of a tender contest between Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare about who loves the other more. Combined with Anita Jeram’s sweet, delicate watercolors, it is a match made in heaven. TESS (Annick, $5.95) stands out because of Canmore, Alta., author Hazel Hutchins’s keen, evocative writing—“It all seemed to speak to her—that great sweep of prairie and the sky so wide.” This insightful story of a girl growing up on the Prairies during the Depression—and having to collect dried
cow dung for fuel—has found a perfect match in Torontonian Ruth Ohi’s homey watercolors. THE KILLICK: A NEWFOUNDLAND STORY (Tundra, $14.95) is both beautiful and heartbreaking, a story about a boy’s journey with his grandfather that has the flavor of real life and, especially, of the indomitable people of The Rock. Well-known East Coast artist Geoff Butler has written a lyrical, elegiac tale and accompanied it with gorgeous, moving acrylics and pencil drawings. THE MAGIC BOOT (Annick, $5.95) is a charmingly absurd tale of a boy who leaves his footprint in history. Pipo’s enormous feet cause everyone problems, and a
fairy’s gift of a pair of enchanted boots has some unexpected results. Montreal illustrator Pierre Pratt’s distinctive style—heavy black outlines outlining intense color blocks—is a good match for the manic antics of Rémy Simard’s story. SHO AND THE DEMONS OF THE DEEP (Annick, $17.95) explodes with intricate, colorful illustrations that recall various folk-art styles and the work of renowned Japanese artist Hokusai. Acclaimed St. Jérôme, Que., illustrator Annouchka Gravel Galouchko makes her debut as a storyteller, and a rich tale it is—about a Japanese girl who teaches people how to defuse their nightmares. Sho’s art won Gravel Galouchko a Governor General’s Award this year in the French-language children’s books category. THE LAST QUEST OF GILGAMESH (Tundra, 19.95) also won a Governor General’s Award for art, in the English-language category, last month. Montreal writer-illustrator Ludmila Zeman, who has created two previous books about the ancient Mesopotamian king (and whose series is being turned into an animated film), completes the epic with Gilgamesh seeking immortality after the death of his friend. Zeman’s language is dramatic, and her exotic, lavishly detailed illustrations heighten the story’s power. JUST LIKE NEW (Groundwood, $14.95) is Vancouverite Ainslie Manson’s bittersweet tale of Sally, a girl of about 10 in Montreal who sends her favorite doll to England as part of a Second World War relief program at Christmas. The subtle, sensitive illustrations by Karen Reczuch of Acton, Ont., are the real highlight of this book. IN FLANDERS FIELDS: THE STORY OF THE POEM BY JOHN McCRAE (Lester, $16.95) evokes—for older children—the darkness of the First World War with
Linda Granfield’s straightforward, fact-laden text and with fellow Torontonian Janet Wilson’s moody drawings and paintings, as well as photographs and archival material. Recounting the story of Canadian physician and writer McCrae, who died of pneumonia while tending troops in France, the book also offers a wrenching description of trench warfare. LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD (Groundwood, $14.95) proves that even the most familiar tale can be given fresh life. In Montreal artist Mireille Levert’s version, Red Riding Hood’s blank, moony face is comically expressive, and the paunchy wolf is more sleazy than frightening. The saturated colors and blocky forms of the illustrations suit the story’s simplicity. And they sparkle with wit: Red Riding Hood’s face on a dinner plate perfectly captures the carnivore’s thoughts. THE JOLLY POCKET POSTMAN (Reed, $25.99) giddily goes where few children’s books, apart from the two earlier Jolly Postman instalments, have gone before—to a riotous, postmodern realm of overlapping fairy tales and general crazed delight. The British husband-wife team of writer Allan and artist Janet Ahlberg (who died last year) have created another marvel of silly rhymes, letters and stories within tangents within stories.
PRINCESS PRUNELLA AND THE PURPLE PEANUT (Key Porter, $14.95) postulates what happens when a pompous, prissy princess patronizes a poor old woman, who then puts a curse upon her. Toronto poet and prose writer Margaret Atwood and picture maker Maryann Kovalski portray how Prunella must perform Three Good Deeds to make a purple peanut disappear from the pointy tip of her proboscis. A pinheaded prince, a pug and three pussycats provide comic
backup in this alliterative parable. Pretty funny. JUST STAY PUT (Groundwood, $14.95) wittily retells a folktale about an idle dreamer from a Jewish village in Poland who sets out for Warsaw. He never makes it, but along the way there is comedy and confusion. Toronto writer-illustrator Gary Clement brings a Chagall-like air of fantasy to his penand-ink and gouache drawings, which reinforces the story’s absurd aspects.
BATS ABOUT BASEBALL (Viking, $17.99) delights with delirious wordplay and pictures. Jean Little, who lives near Elora, Ont., and Claire Mackay of Toronto have created an ingenious story about a boy named Ryder discussing career possibilities with his baseballobsessed grandmother. When Ryder mentions joining the navy, “Nana” comes back with, ‘Two aboard and a big gun on deck. He was traded from the Pirates. We’re sunk.” The accompanying watercolors by Kim LaFave of Roberts Creek, B.C., are a whimsical wonder.
JACOB TWO-TWO'S FIRST SPY CASE (McClelland & Stewart, 17.99) is writer Mordecai Richler’s third children’s novel about the now-8year-old boy who says everything twice to make himself heard in the grown-up world. With the help of his mysterious neighbor, the peripatetic X. Barnaby Dinglebat (“I’ve had a bath in Turkey and eaten turkey in a city called Bath”), Jacob battles injustice—in the form of loathsome cafeteria food—at his boarding school. Full of sly wit and sharp tweaks at adult hypocrisy, and featuring cheekily surrealistic sketches by Torontonian Norman Eyolfson, Spy Case is a treat for adults as well as young readers.
THE BIG BAZOOHLEY (Random House,
$19.95) depicts another boy hero striking a blow for child power, written by another renowned adult author, Australian native Peter Carey. Sam Kellow’s parents are in a fix: broke, they have come to a fine Toronto hotel to try to sell one of Sam’s mother’s paintings to a rich patron. But the
man is nowhere to be found, and then Sam himself disappears, dragged into the Perfecto Kiddo Competition by a fanatical couple. Carey’s novel has a strong sense of atmosphere, and the story— accompanied by New Yorker Abira Ali’s moody illustrations—is a wry
comment on adults’ sometimes unreasonable expectations of children.
NOTES ACROSS THE AISLE (Thistledown, $9.95) has something for every teenager—especially those yearning for a more realistic take on life. Edited by Toronto-area children’s book expert Peter Carver, Notes is a collection of powerful Canadian short fiction selected from submissions to the Saskatoon publisher’s National Young Adult Short Story competition. The authors tackle everything from sexual abuse (the winning piece, Winnipegger Linda Holeman’s How to Tell Renata) to a parent’s infidelity (Brampton, Ont., resident Diana C. Aspin’s Deep Freeze) and ranges in settings from Sri Lanka to a North West Company fort 200 years ago.
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