Cute-Lit for the kiddies

Patricia Hluchy December 11 2000

Cute-Lit for the kiddies

Patricia Hluchy December 11 2000

Cute-Lit for the kiddies


Well, the mast bent nearly double, and hat whale pulled the Viper through the >cean on a Nantucket sleigh riele.

“The lass has hooked herself a whale!” t •ailors cried in amazement.

“She’s reeling it in!" they cried.

“She’s reeling in a whale!”

“Nice fishing, girl,” said Hart Maxwell, md in a flash he cut the rope holding Peg i he mast. ^

Seasonal wonders range from poetry to a yucky love story

They may tear the pages into tiny bits or get lollipop drool all over the covers, but children derive more joy and stimulation from picture books than fom most other diversions. Some titles by Canadians from the past several months that small ones will go back to again and again:

Bringing together two greats of children’s literature— Canadian poet Dennis Lee (Alligator Pie, Garbage Delight) and American illustrator David McPhail (Mole Music)— couldn’t help but yield something extraordinary. And so it is with Bubblegum Delicious (Key Porter, $19.95). Lee’s poetry is, as ever, utterly fresh and as delectable as a banana split—‘

parachutes/Are drifting through/My dream-—/Pollywogs/In parachutes,/With pink and white/Ice cream.”

And McPhail again proves his uncommon ability to create eye candy for both little people and their parents—something he also does in Sail Away (Orea, $19.95), writer Florence McNeil’s tale about a boy in a

bathtub pretending to sail the high seas. From Peg and

Two children given to wild flights of the Whale: she imagination are the subject of Frieda goes on a JonahWishinsky’s splendid Nothing Scares Us and-the-whale(Scholastic, $19.99). Lucy and Lenny style odyssey both seem fearless until Lenny discovers a TV show featuring “the creature,” and Lucy doesn’t share his enthusiasm. Neal Layton’s riotously colourful, childlike drawings perfeedy match Wishinsky’s flawless channelling of childhood fear.

Among the more unusual and exquisite picture books this season is Hans Christian Andersens The Snow Queen (Tundra, $19.99). Author Ken Setterington’s version of the story is elegant and compelling, while the illustrations by Nelly and Ernst Hofer, done in the Scherenschnitt of their native Switzerland, are enchanting. These black and white cutpaper images—nominated for a Governor General’s Award this fall —make beautiful alchemy with Andersen’s tale.

Another otherworldly tale with more than a touch of darkness is Old Thomas and the Little Fairy (H. B. Fenn, $9.95 paperback). Dominique Demers’s text, translated from the French by Sheila Fischman, tells the story of a miserable old fisherman whose heart melts when he encounters a tiny, mysterious girl. Stéphane Poulin’s intense, dramatic paintings have real impact.

Montrealer Marie-Louise Gay has won numerous awards for her own picture books and her illustrations for stories by

others. This season she soars in both categories. Her enchanting images for Don Gillmor’s Yuck, a Love Story (Stoddart, $19.95) won her a Governor General’s Award last month. The book tells the wry, surrealistic tale of a boy with conflicting emotions about the new girl next door. Gay both wrote and illustrated Stella Queen of the Snow (Groundwood, $ 15.95), a whimsical dialogue between a little girl with flaming red hair and her little brother, who has never

seen snow before. Gay’s artwork portrays snow-scapes of childlike simplicity and loveliness.

Young people will recognize their own awe in the face of a wintry night reading Sky Sisters (Kids Can, $ 15.95). Jan Bourdeau Waboose, a Nishinawbe Ojibwa from Northern Ontario, writes about two girls who go into the woods to look for the “SkySpirits”—the northern lights. Waboose’s richly evocative tale comes with dreamy illustrations by Brian Deines.

Toronto author Kenneth Oppel is a hero to readers of his young-adult adventures Sunwing and Silverwing.

With his bracing Peg and the Whale (HarperCollins, $19.95), he returns to picture books for a younger set. Boldly illustrated by Terry Widener, this is the tale of the strong-willed Peg, who loves to fish and is determined to catch a whale. Her quest takes her on a Jonah-and-the-whale-style odyssey, one singled out by the American Library Association as a Booklist Editor’s Choice.

Fascinating for adults as well as for children, A Time of Golden Dragons (Tundra, $19.99) explains the towering significance of dragons in Chinese culture. The text, by Chinese-born Canadian father-son team Song Nan Zhang and Hao Yu Zhang, is filled with compelling details—tornadoes,

Children won’t forget the magical paintings of a snarling beast in The Wolf of Gubbio

for example, are known as “dragon swirls” in China. And the illustrations by Song Nan Zhang are symphonies of colour.

The story of how St. Francis of Assisi tamed the wolf terrorizing the village of Gubbio is a haunting one. In The Wolf of Gubbio (Stoddart, $19.95), Michael Bedard recounts the tale with grace and simplicity. But Murray Kimber’s magical paintings are this book’s biggest strength: children won’t forget his oversized wolf snarling at the monk when he visits the sombre forest lair, and then extending his paw to the holy man.

Tapping into children’s love of collecting and sorting objects, Hannah’s Collections (Tundra, $17.99) is the tale of a girl who cannot choose which of her many assortments of treasures to take to school. Writer-illustrator Marthe Jocelyn won a Governor General’s Award nomination for her vibrant collages, which will inspire many young ones to start hoarding buttons, popsicle sticks, shells, feathers and elastic bands.

Based on a true story, Anna’s Goat (Orea, $19.95) combines the storytelling skills of novelist Janice Kulyk Keefer, making her children’s book debut, and illustrator Janet Wil-

The lion, the witch and the piggy

Some of the niftiest picture books for children by non-Canadians:

Madlenka by Peter Sis (Groundwood, $19.95). The tale is meagre—a girl loses her tooth—but Sis’s ingenious illustrations make this one of the most exhilarating picture books of the year.

Aesop’s Fables illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Vanwell, $27.95). The classic moral tales come alive with Pinkney’s dynamic images.

Wizzll by William Steig, illustrated by Quentin Blake (Groundwood, $26.95). The award-winning author, also a New Yorker cartoonist, has concocted a devilishly funny tale about a witch, with saucy images from Blake.

Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep by

Eleanor Farjeon, illustrated by Charlotte Voake (Groundwood, $22.99). A hand-

some re-issue of the late British author’s story, first published in 1937, of a litde girl who can skip rope better than the fairies.

Where Do Balloons Go? An Uplifting Mystery by actress Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrated by Laura Cornell (HarperCollins, $19.95). Teaming up for the fourth time, this winning writer-artist team provides whimsical, eyetingling answers to the tide question.

Some Things Are Scary by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Jules Feiffer (Groundwood, $21.99). Children will howl at this compendium of things that make them quake—from stepping on something squishy to knowing they are going to be grown up one day.

Olivia by Ian Falconer (Distican, $23.50). There’s a new kid on the block, and she’s a feisty little piggy. Falconer accompanies his hilarious tale of this porcine prima donna with distinctive illustrations in black, grey and red.

Fairy Tales told by Berlie Doherty, illustrated by Jane Ray (Groundwood, $26.99). This gorgeous collection features 12 classics—including Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin and The Frog Prince— told in lucid prose with a dash of modern sensibility. The Lion’s Share by Chris Conover (Groundwood, $26.95). Conover has created magical illustrations for her own story of a baby lion who can fly—and who discovers the flights of imagination available through books.


son, whose drawings have a warm glow. This is the hopeful, captivating tale of a refugee mother during the Second World War, who—unable to feed her two daughters—must go to work, leaving them with a goat to cuddle against for warmth, and to provide milk.

The Market Wedding (Tundra, $19.99), with its sophisticated story by Cary Fagan and detailed, evocative paintings—nominated for a Governor General s Award—by Regolo Ricci, will appeal as much to adults as to the older children it’s aimed at. Set in Toronto’s Kensington Market in the 1920s, when the area was predominantly Jewish, it tells the story of fishmonger Morris and hat seller Minnie. When they fall in love and decide to marry, they make the common mistake of assuming money can buy happiness.

Another old-time tale with old-fashioned values is Pa’s Harvest (Groundwood, $12.95), a true story from Ephrem Carrier related by Jan Andrews. This small book, which comes with homespun, Governor General’s Award-nominated illustrations by Cybèle Young, tells the bittersweet tale of a boy who helps his father grow and harvest potatoes, only to

Old-fashioned values lie at the heart of the bittersweet, true story Pas Harvest

discover there is no market for them.

The lesson in The Painted Chest (Key Porter, $18.95)—essentially, that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy—will probably have more resonance for parents than for inherently play-focused children. But this book, with text and earthy pictures by Judith Christine Mills, still delights with its tale of downtrodden villagers and how their lives are changed by the discovery of an old chest filled with musical instruments and dancing shoes.

Sibling rivalry gets funny, nervestriking treatment in My Sister Grade (Tundra, $18.99), writer-illustrator Gillian Johnson’s rhyming tale of a dog named Fabio who gets a sister from the pound. Fabio is miserable at first, of course, but he learns the meaning of family ties. Johnson combines witty, Seuss-like language with delightfully silly images.

A whimsical tale based on an all-toocommon dilemma, along with vibrant three-dimensional images created with a plasticine-like material, make Sleepy Little Mouse (Kids Can, $12.95) a dreamy gem. Written by Eugenie Fernandes and illustrated by her daughter, Kim, it’s the story of a mouse who refuses to have a nap and sheds so many tears that her bed—a small yellow shoe, actually—flows out to the sea.

An independent girl’s devotion to her grandmother is the subject of Nan Gregory’s emotionally complex Wild Girl & Gran (Red Deer, $18.95). This solitary child likes to perch in a tree while pretending to be a fairytale princess or a pirate. The death of her grandmother, who understood the girl’s wild imagination, hits hard—until the child and her mother bond in celebrating the old woman’s life. Ron Lightburn’s illustrations are sublime.

Patricia Hluchy