There’s something to thrill every kid among this season’s Canadian picture books

SUE FERGUSON November 29 2004


There’s something to thrill every kid among this season’s Canadian picture books

SUE FERGUSON November 29 2004




There’s something to thrill every kid among this season’s Canadian picture books

Some great books for younger children stand on rich stories alone, but most depend on more than text. Maclean’s asked kidlit aficionados across the country to recommend 2004 kiddie picture books by Canadians. Here are 20 top titles chosen by them, and us:

No Monsters Here (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $19.95) by Torontonians Sharon Jennings and Ruth Ohi features a lovably topsy-turvy world. In Jennings’ tale, a boy takes charge of the nighttime routine as his monster-fearing dad tries to prevent him from going to bed. Ohi’s water colour-and-ink pictures draw us into dad’s apprehension and the son’s gleeful confidence. A monster and a fearless child are the subject of another book by a Toronto duo. In Peg and the Yeti (HarperCollins $19.99), acclaimed children’s novelist Kenneth Oppel offers a story about a girl who leaves her life on the high seas to conquer Mount Everest. Not even the gargantuan Yeti she encounters can stop her. As always, Barbara Reid works wonders turning Plasticine into a hairy beast and a rosy-cheeked girl.

A POODLE IN PARIS (Secret Mountain, $24.99)

Dawn Watch (Groundwood, $15.95) is a more realistic adventure, yet magical and mysterious in its telling. A girl sailing across Lake Superior with her dad revels in solitude as she gazes at the dark swells and starbrushed sky. French illustrator Nicolas Debon’s swirling images beautifully complement the thoughtful, well-paced text by Jean E. Pendziwol of Thunder Bay, Ont.

In Fiddles & Spoons (Dery, $19.95) two Nova Scotians, Wolfville author Lila HopeSimpson and Canning illustrator Doretta Groenendyk, recount the 1755 expulsion of the Acadians—from a rodent’s perspective. As the soldiers’ arrival disrupts life above the floorboards, Mama Souris

NO MONSTERS HERE (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $19.95); MONKEY BUSINESS (Kids Can, $19.95); LEO’S TREE (Annick, $19.95)

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $19.95)

A SECOND IS A HICCUP (Scholastic, $19.99)

smells the worry in the air. The frightened mice journey with their Acadian hosts to foreign lands where, wistful for home, they celebrate their heritage.

For When Cats Go Wrong (Raincoast, $24.95), Vancouver artist Cynthia Nugent used deep fiery shades reminiscent ol Toulouse-Lautrec poster art. That’s fitting because the text is, in fact, lyrics for a tango, written and sung on an accompanying CD by Toronto’s Norm Hacking. And it’s sure to resonate with both cat lovers and haters: There’re claw marks on the lampshades /And paw prints on the mirror/.. .Life with a naughty kitty /Isn’t very pretty.

Meanwhile, dogs figure in many terrific books. A stylish pup strives to win the affections of a seamstress in Doggie in the Window (Groundwood, $16.95) by Quebecers Elaine Arsenault and Fanny (Francine Bouchard). The moral—that dreams pursued with dogged determination can come true— is also at the heart of James the Dancing Dog (Tundra, $22.99). Written by former National Ballet of Canada soloist Linda Maybarduk and illustrated by Winnipegnative Gillian Johnson, the book is inspired by an actual beagle who hung out at the dance company in the 1960s.

In A Veiy Unusual Dog (Scholastic, $19.99), Jonathan annoys his sister by tending to his invisible pet. But Grandma, it turns out, is a believer. West Coaster Kim LaFave’s warm palette reflects the tender text by Toronto author—and grannyDorothyjoan Harris. The bold collages of Quebec City’s “Fil & Julie” (Philippe Arseneau Bussières and Julie St-Onge Drouin) jump off the pages of the CD-

FIDDLES & SPOONS (Dery, $19.95);

UNDER THE SPELL OF THE MOON (Groundwood, $25);

GRANDPARENTS’ DAY (Annick, $18.95)

DOGGIE IN THE WINDOW (Groundwood, $16.95)

A VERY UNUSUAL DOG (Scholastic, $19.99)

JABBERWOCKY (Kids Can, $18.95)

book combo A Poodle in Paris (Secret Mountain, $24.99). Written and sung by Montrealer Connie Kaldor, the story tracks La Grande Fifi as she drops in on each of her five, très Parisien, domiciles. Meanwhile, A Treasure in My Garden ($24.99) is another Secret Mountain charmer, with its delightful songs and stories by Gilles Vigneault and sweetly absurdist illustrations by Montrealer Stéphane Jorisch.

‘Tims brillig, and theslithy toves/Did gyre and girnble in the wabe. How do you depict the wonderful nonsense of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky (Kids Can, $18.95)? Well, Jorisch does so by poking fun at patriarchy, the military and the media. Kids 8 and up will be enchanted by the disturbing world evoked by Jorisch who, wit' this book, won a 2004 Governor General’s award for kids’ illustration. Another master of glorious nonsense is Wallace Edwards (Alphabeasts), who’s back with more animal portraits in Monkey Business (Kids Can, $19.95). This time, they’re pictorial renderings of everyday idioms. Dog-eat-dog world?

A manicured bulldog in a stately chair dines on wieners.

Time and space are weighty subjects for kidlit, but two ambitious books take on the challenge. In A Second Is a Hiccup (Scholastic, $19.99), Canmore, Alta.’s Hazel Hutchins uses familiar experiences to explain time: If you build a sandy tower/

Run right through a sprinkly shower/Climb a tree, and smell a flower/Pretend you have a secret power/That should nicely fill/

An hour. There aren’t any maps in This is Me and Where I Am (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $19.95). Instead, Orton, Ont., author/illustrator Joanne Fitzgerald starts out big and wide, with a picture of the world. From there, she guides readers through country, city and neigbourhood, arriving at a place kids know well, “me under the blanket.”

What’s better than going to a ballgame? How about skipping school to go to one? That’s what Grandma has in store for Jenny and Joanna in Take Me Out to the Ballgame (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $19.95) by Maryann Kovalski, a resident of both Toronto and New York. Midway through the book, the text gives way to the famous lyrics—and more exuberant sketches by Kovalski.

Toronto author Debora Pearson has a knack for simple, evocative language. In Leo’s Tree (Annick, $19.95, $5.95 paper), a linden planted by dad when Leo is small mirrors the boy’s experiences through the seasons-autumn brings Rosy cheeks, rosy trees / Crunchy golden linden leaves. Perfect for kids 3 and under. Also from Annick

but aimed at a slightly older cohort is Grandparents’ Day ($18.95, $8.95 paper) by Vancouver Island’s Nikki Tate. The narrator cringes during a school visit by his ducttaped-rubber-boot-wearing grandmother when she raises her pant leg to display a nasty purple scar. But her wild tale of the Brazilian snake that bit her calf has all transfixed. Montrealer Benoit Laverdière ups the wacky quotient with his wonky images in near-neon shades.

Unwilling to believe his favourite superhero has retired, Michael is on the lookout for him all summer. Finally, he spots him in the shape of his new teacher, Mr. Clark. In Perfect Man (Orea, $19.95), Victoria author Troy Alan Maxwell Wilson and illustrator Dean Griffiths of Duncan, B.C., pepper an inspirational story with sly humour. Sam and Stella are back. The spunky brother and sister created by Montrealer Marie-Louise Gay explore the night in Stella: Princess of the Sky (Groundwood, $15.95). Sam, it seems, is growing up. He still asks endless questions, but now has opinions of his own—the Big Dipper “looks like the moon spilled a glass of milk.” Stella remains a mix of whimsy and common sense. Gay’s luminescent artwork also figures in Under the Spell of the Moon (Groundwood, $25), edited by company owner/publisher Patricia Aldana. The book boasts an eclectic range of illustrations by 32 international artistsfrom an abstract rendering of a frog in plaid pants by Czech Kveta Pacovská to a dreamy old Iranian woman with her hair in 40 braids by Nasrin Khosravi. You may want to keep this one on your coffee table. flfl