Books

SWEET READS

Amid all the great new homegrown picture books for kids, some favourites

SUE FERGUSON December 15 2003
Books

SWEET READS

Amid all the great new homegrown picture books for kids, some favourites

SUE FERGUSON December 15 2003

SWEET READS

Amid all the great new homegrown picture books for kids, some favourites

Books

SUE FERGUSON

NIB, THE SPUNKY rodent hero of The Subway Mouse (Scholastic Canada, $21.99), is on a quest for a better world. Unable to keep the cozy nest he fashions out of candy wrappers, feathers and lost earrings clear of his marauding cousins, he ventures off in search of the mythical Tunnel’s End. Toronto author Barbara Reid’s Plasticine art renders Nib’s garbage-strewn subterranean world as enchanting as the starlit sky and grassy lands that ultimately greet him.

Candles drift into stars. Floorboards disperse into a stand of trees. A boy sleeps peacefully, tucked under a blanket of snow. These are among the 16 surreal images in Imagine a Night (Simon & Schuster, $25). The paintings, by Rob Gonsalves of Mallorytown, Ont., exquisitely capture that dreamy space where reality fades into fancy. “Imagine a night,” reads a segment of the text by New Yorker Sarah Thomson, “when you can’t sleep, and so you jump high enough to soar over a quilt of fields and forests.”

The homeless and hungry are the focus of two morality tales this season. In Guelph, Ont., author Jean Little’s Pippin the Christmas Pig (Scholastic Canada, $19.99), a “pig-ignorant” piglet leads a woman and her baby to shelter—thereby learning, and teaching the other animals, a lesson about the real spirit of the season.

It’s impossible not to fall for the impish, inspired boy at the centre of Toronto author Aubrey Davis’s Bagels from Benny (Kids Can, $17.95). In this retelling of ajewish folk tale, our freckle-faced herodrawn by Toronto cartoonist Dusan Petricic-stashes bagels in a synagogue’s Holy Ark as an offering to God. When Benny learns a bearded man in a tattered coat (not God) is eating them, Grandpa helps him see how the man is indeed a conduit to the Almighty.

IMAGINE A NIGHT (Simon&Schuster,$25)

PIPPIN THE CHRISTMAS PIG (Schoiastic Canada, $19.99)

Suki’s Kimono (Kids Can, $17.95) is about a first-grader who dares to be different. Ignoring her older sisters’ disapproval, Suki chooses the decidedly uncool path of wearing a kimono and clogs on the first day of school. The outfit transports her back to a street festival where the taiko drumming made her feel “like she’d swallowed a ball of thunder.” Through it all, Sechelt, B.C., author Chieri Uegaki deftly taps into the little girl’s emotions—pride that turns to fear of ridicule and back to pride again.

Fans of Montreal author-illustrator Marie-

Louise Gay’s Stella series will find the fieryheaded girl’s brother equally charming. Good Morning, Sam and Good Night, Sam (Groundwood, $14.95 each) draw readers into an adult-less world where kids solve their own problems and humour abounds. As Stella urges a horseplaying Sam to dress in Good Morning, he nearly forgets his pants. But the last laugh is on her: she leaves the

house in her nightie. In Good Night, Sam’s sleeplessness knows no cure. As he and sis search the house for his canine companion, Fred, readers will love picking the lurking dog out of the shadows.

This year, there are plenty of books about dogs to choose from. For the two beagle-like adventurers in Barbara Nichol’s Safe and Sound (Tundra, $22.99), travelling the globe has its challenges (cleverly portrayed by Rome-based illustrator Anja Reichel). The dogs’ take on Europe? The money’s funny colours. We are stymied by the phones. / The cinema is tainted with salacious overtones.

A dog named Ootsie saves the day in Tomson Highway’s Fox on the Ice (HarperCollins, $19.99), written in Cree and English. A family’s ice-fishing trip goes awry when their sled dogs chase a fox, but our hero stays behind to salvage the catch. Torontonian Brian Deines’s oil paintings skillfully evoke the chill of the icy landscape.

A boy’s imaginary dog figures in Hank and Fergus (Orea, $ 19.95). Vancouver author Susin Nielsen-Fernlund offers up a heartwarming story about overcoming stigma and finding friendship, while the coloured-pencil illustrations by Quebec City’s Louise-Andrée Laliberté give the book a super-kid-friendly feel.

Aimed at the eight-and-up crowd, The Waiting Dog (Kids Can, $17.95) carries a warning label: “Do you have the guts to read this book?” Good question. The book—written and illustrated J by sisters Carolyn and Andrea Beck—recounts a dog’s daydream of gobbling up the letter carrier, one succulent body part at a time. Parents might feel queasy, but kids will devour it.

Saskatchewan Cree artist Allen Sapp teams up with writer David Bouchard for a tribute to Native life. Sapp’s warm, impressionistic paintings in The Song Within My Heart (Raincoast, $21.95) won this year’s Governor General’s Award for illustration. The rhythmic text, by Victoria’s Bouchard, conveys the wisdom of elders.

Toronto’s Michael Martchenko has illustrated many kids’ books, including a few Robert Munsch best-sellers. With Ma, I’m a Farmer (Annick, $6.95 paper), he offers up words as well as pictures—and both are a treat. The story, about Fred, a computer operator-turnedfarmer with a bent for engineering, has three things kids love: animals, gadgets and a dim hero—one who sparks a power grid failure and then resorts to solar and wind power.

SUKPS KIMONO (Kids Can, $17.95)

GOOD MORNING, SAM and GOOD NIGHT, SAM (Groundwood, $14.95 each)

BED BED BED (Simon & Schuster, $25.50)

There’s a lot of whimsy in the CD-book set Bed Bed Bed (Simon & Schuster, $25.50). The songs—by New Yorkers John Linnell and John Flansburgh—are upbeat, but it’s the drawings by Winnipegger Marcel Dzama that really stand out. With simple lines and muted tones set off by the odd dash of vibrant colour, he portrays a world in which kids sit down to dinner with bears and bunnies and an octopus joins a boy in the bedtime teeth-brushing ritual.

gL.

Fantasy come true is the theme of another CD-book set, A Duck in New York City (La montagne secrète, $24.99). Montreal singer-songwriter Connie Kaldor has come up with a story to complement a song she wrote years ago for her two children, about a prairie duck with dreams of performing on Broadway. While the song focuses on our web-footed friend’s trials in the Big Apple, the text is more about his journey—geographical and emotional—to the bright lights. Quebec City’s “Fil et Julie” illustrate the book with cheerful collages. The CD includes 11 more of Kaldor’s laugh-along tunes as well as lyrics (also printed in the book), musical scores and French translations.

It comes as no surprise that Nicolas Debon, author-illustrator of Four Pictures by Emily Carr (Groundwood, $15.85), is a native of France. While his graphic depictions of the B.C. painter’s life and work make brilliant use of her green-and-ochre palette, the drawings are reminiscent of cartoon hero Tintin. Debon runs through four transformative periods in Carr’s life, and saves the best for the final pages: the small comic-book frames give way to larger, rapturous pictures—allusions to Carr’s 1935 painting Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky, and her exaltation in what she called the “pure joy of life.” (Til