If you want to know just how important great children's books are in developing a lifelong passion for reading, flip through the pages of How The Heather Looks
. You should find yourself whisked back in time as you re-encounter the books that were a magical part of your own childhood, books like Winnie-the-Pooh
, Swallows and Amazons, The Wind and the Willows, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, A Child's Garden of Verses,
and many more. Indeed, Joan Bodger's insightful and imaginative journey might start you off on one of your own: since I finished How The Heather Looks
, I've been re-reading some of my own childhood favourites-Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little
, and Harriet the Spy
-and am now planning to re-visit many of the works that Bodger deliciously weaves into the text of this truly remarkable celebration of classic children's tales.
First published in 1965, How The Heather Looks is a marvellously rich and multi-layered book. At its core, it's a travelogue, recounting a true adventure that the Bodger family-Joan and husband John, along with their two children, Ian (almost nine) and Lucy (just two and a half)-had in the summer of 1958. The Bodger clan journeyed to Britain in search of the places that are celebrated in children's literature-places both real and imaginary. "Most places in children's literature are real," Bodger writes in the foreword. "We could find them if we searched. All we needed was faith. I was reminded of a poem by Emily Dickinson.
I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be."
You'll find yourself following the Bodgers to places celebrated in the myths and legends of English folk heros like Robin Hood and King Arthur, traipsing through Sherwood Forest, and exploring the ruins of Tintagel, Glastonbury Abbey, and Cadbury Castle. You'll discover the landscapes that animated such renowned children's book illustrators as Randolph Caldecott, L. Leslie Brooke, Ernest Shepard, and Beatrix Potter. And perhaps, most exciting of all, you'll discover the places that inspired some of the most celebrated imaginary places in children's literature, like The Hundred Acres Wood, Pooh Corners, and Toad Hall. How the Heather Looks is a fabulous pilgrimage to the imaginative worlds that children's books lead readers of all ages into; an inspiring quest to link up those imaginative worlds that authors like Arthur Ransome, Rudyard Kipling, A.A. Milne, C.S. Lewis, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Kenneth Grahame have so painstakingly created with real places.
As well, How the Heather Looks delves into the rich history of children's literature and is full of information on authors and illustrators (this should come as no surprise given Joan Bodger's passion for children's literature and John's research skills). Bodger also makes British history come to life in this book: yes, Celtic and Roman Britain are important parts of children's literature, but so is the social history.
How the Heather Looks is simply a wonderful book to read and, more than thirty years later, it's as fresh and crisp as when it first appeared. The author writes marvellous prose that beautifully captures the thrills and the disappointments that made up this memorable excursion. She's especially talented at evoking the landscape and people that her family encounters. But what makes it a truly great book is Bodger's ability to re-create the excitement that her children experienced as they discovered the real places behind the books that they knew and loved. I don't think I will ever forget little Lucy's search for the door to Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's or Ian's delight in finding Rat's house on the Riverbank-those moments when book and place come together magically.
How the Heather Looks will both enchant and inspire you. The subtitle says it best when it describes the book as a "joyous journey". It is certainly that-and much more.
If I Were The Moon
Illustrated by Leslie Elizabeth Watts
32 pages, $19.95 cloth
by Jeffrey Canton
If I Were The Moon is a gentle lullaby that is sure to engage and delight young readers. It's a wonderful treat for fans of Sheree Fitch, whose books include rambunctious and humorous favourites like There Were Monkeys In My Kitchen, Mabel Murple, and There's A Mouse In My House!, and is a terrific way to introduce her books to new readers.
If I were the moon
I'd shine down my light
Right into your bedroom
To warm up the night.
This is a great bedtime book. Fitch's verse has a soft and reassuring resonance that beautifully captures that perfect moment when a child is tucked up in bed, spellbound by the voice of an older sibling or an adult sharing a special book with him or her. We follow a young girl into her imagination where she becomes an ocean, a tree, a flower, a snowflake-fantasy worlds that she openly and joyously wants to share with the listener. It's a book full of action and movement-dancing, sliding, sailing, climbing-but it is, at the same time, a book that is soft, peaceful even.
The illustrations by Leslie Elizabeth Watts thoughtfully mirror Fitch's lyrical text and add magic and colour to the world Fitch invites us to share. Watts, who illustrated Fitch's last book, There's A Mouse In My House!, uses a very different style here to create the soft and gentle illustrations that light up If I Were The Moon. This book has a radiant glow to it; Watts' colours are bright, warm, and inviting, and will tempt the reader and listener to explore them again and again.
If I Were The Moon is a welcome addition to Canadian books for bedtime reading, joining Teddy Jam's Night Cars, This New Baby, and Kady MacDonald Denton's A Children's Treasury of Nursery Rhymes. It's sure to be called for by delighted young readers again and again and again.
No Dragons for Tea:
Fire Safety for Kids (and Dragons)
Illustrated by Martine Gourbault
Kids Can Press
30 pages, $14.95 cloth
by Erinn Banting
Who better to demonstrate the importance of fire-safety to kids than a fire-breathing dragon? This is Jean Pendziwol's candidate of choice in her first picture book, No Dragons for Tea, as she takes kids through the safety fundamentals.
On her way to the beach, a little girl literally runs into a dragon. As he seems quite the polite creature, she invites him to spend the day at the beach: "He had a cute bear and some other toys too;/ With my shovel and pail we'd have oodles to do."
After a tremendous day with her new friend, she convinces her mother to let the dragon come over for tea. However, problems begin the moment they sprinkle pepper on their lovely lunch and the dragon sneezes: "Well...we all know what happens when dragons `a-choo.'/ Flames shot from his mouth and from both nostrils too."
Luckily our little girl knows her fire-safety rules. Even when the dragon gets scared and tries to hide under the living room rug, she drags him out and tells him that "when there's fire, we must get outside." And even after she takes the dragon to join her mother at the designated meeting place and he tries to run back in for his bear, she declares:
Listen, Dragon, here's what you should know:
Don't ever go back-that just will not do.
We can get a new bear, but we can't replace you.
One of the most important aspects of this book is the fire-safety recap on the last pages. `The Dragon's Fire-Safety Rhyme' summarizes the lessons that the little girl and the dragon learn during their adventure. The rhyme for children is followed by a note to guardians and parents and a fire-safety checklist which is designed to facilitate an open dialogue with children about what to do in case of fire.
The message in this book is presented in a fun, clear, and informative way. The rules of fire-safety are emphasized through the amusing narrative and dialogue, the brilliantly detailed and playful illustrations, and the simple fire-safety checklist that kids can even memorize on their own.
Illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes
32 pages, $5.99 paper
by Jeffrey Canton
When you finish reading his latest book, Ribbon Rescue, you know that Robert Munsch is a great storyteller. Ribbon Rescue feels like a story being told to a great big group of high-spirited youngsters who can hardly keep still, so excited are they to see just what will happen next. And, in fact, it is a story that actually came out of a storytelling event. It's also full to bursting with the kind of madcap humour that is classic Munsch.
Kids are heroes in Robert Munsch's books and Ribbon Rescue is no exception. Wearing the brand-new ribbon dress, a traditional Mohawk costume, that her grandmother has just finished making, it's up to Jillian to save the day as a befuddled wedding party, falling apart at the seams, rushes by her on the way to the church. As groom, bride, family friends, and the best man turn to Jillian for assistance, she uses the brightly coloured ribbons on her dress to give a helping hand. Sounds great, doesn't it?
The problem with Ribbon Rescue is that it doesn't read particularly well on the page. It's clumsy and lacks that spontaniety that it would surely have had in performance. When the best man comes on the scene, he begins shouting that he's lost the wedding ring; but there's no been indication that he dropped the ring right then and there. He's been running down the road-that ring could be anywhere! Jillian provides the bride and groom with her mother's bike and her brother's skateboard but hands over "Lindsay's wagon and Hayley's scooter" without explaining to the reader who Lindsay and Hayley are.
The illustrations in Ribbon Rescue don't help either: they're too rough and sketchy for this lively story and seem as though they've been executed too hastily. This is a first collaboration between Eugenie Fernandes and Munsch and it's a disappointing beginning. Fernandes is a first-rate illustrator whose boisterous, effervescent pictures have filled more than eighty pictures books, including Rise and Shine, Foo, Lavender Moon, Waves in the Bathtub, and Tom and Francine. From a writer and storyteller like Munsch and an illustrator like Fernandes, Ribbon Rescue should have a great book and it's not.
Illustrated by Pierre Pratt
24 pages, $9.99 paper
by Erinn Banting
There's nothing like a pair of big, clunky, red shoes to make one feel a little feisty. Maybe a little too feisty, in the case of Gracie, the little girl who sports a pair in James Sage's Sassy Gracie.
Gracie's shoes are a little too clunky for Cook's taste: "Stop that dancing, Sassy Gracie! It's getting on my nerves." When Cook takes a day off though, and the Master (who is expecting "a very important guest" for dinner) asks Gracie to prepare two chickens for their dinner, Gracie loses all restraint.
While Gracie is waiting for the chickens to roast, she dances everywhere-from the kitchen, to the best sitting room, in and out of the Master's library, and back again. As Gracie discovers, "dancing can take a lot out of you". When she gets back to the kitchen, she decides to check on the chickens-by taking a few tastes, which turn into a whole chicken. After she returns from her second round of dancing and takes another little taste test; "the second chicken was no more than a spiky carcass of well picked bones, just like the first."
Sassy Gracie might just be a little too sassy: after all, she does lie to the dinner guest to avoid being caught ("Crikey Mister, are you in trouble!...Because you're so late, my Master is planning to give you two big bumps on the head with his walking stick!"); then she must lie to the Master about the dinner guest's failure to attend ("That's a fine guest you invited! He's run off with my two roast chickens!").
Part of what lightens this book (beyond the jovial dialogue) is the stunning visual accompaniment by award-winning illustrator Pierre Pratt. What's a truly clunky pair of red shoes if they're not jumping off the page at you? Sassy Gracie's are enough to make anyone want to strap them on and dance to the point of dropping.
Pratt's landscapes are as vibrant as his renditions of the colourful characters: Sassy Gracie with her curly black pig-tails; the bell-shaped Master with his green house coat and cane that goes "bumpety-bump"; the enormous cook; and, of course, the timid dinner guest with his green top hat and burgundy suit.
The book is fast-paced and entertaining, and after a day of dancing and eating and fun, it's no wonder that Gracie has to take a nap: "And did she snore? YOU BET SHE DID."
Illustrated by Paul Morin
32 pages, $19.95 cloth
by Sherie Posesorski
In Japanese Zen gardens, nature is artfully represented through the harmonious placement of differently sized stones, meticulously raked gravel and moss, and shielding evergreens and hedges. Its beauty is quiet, refined, and suggestive. The spiritual aim of the design is to create a sanctuary that will foster reflection, meditation, and peace of mind. Aesthetically and spiritually, maintaining the garden is an act of reverence for nature and God.
Writer Maxine Trottier and illustrator Paul Morin delicately and movingly evoke the essence and aesthetics of the Zen garden in Flags. In this picture book, Trottier, who has authored, among others, the award-winning The Tiny Kite of Eddie Wing, tells the story of young Mary's friendship with her grandmother's next door neighbour, Mr. Hiroshi, in the summer of 1942 in a B.C. coastal town. The adult Mary, now back in her prairie home, recalls that bittersweet, unforgettable summer with a sense of poignant appreciation and sorrow.
The start of the summer was as lovely as an idyll could be. Mary was captivated by the striking beauty of the Pacific coast, and nourished by the affectionate company of her grandmother and the kind, patient Mr. Hiroshi. She was especially taken with his garden, hidden from view by cedars and hedges. The cool peacefulness of this secret sanctuary was a welcome respite from the heavy summer heat and Mary was only too happy to help him rake its sand and moss, to clip the weeds which grew between the stones, and to feed the ever greedy koi in the pond surrounded by small, blue irises, called flags.
A destructive current was flowing under this tranquil idyll, however. Mary's grandmother grew increasingly worried about the fate of Mr. Hiroshi, now that the government had begun deporting Japanese Canadians to internment camps, claiming that they posed a threat to national security. Twenty thousand were placed in camps for the duration of the war. The government then seized their homes and businesses, selling them off for paltry sums.
The mood of serenity entwined with melancholy elegy is subtly reinforced by Morin's luminous, haunting pictures of moonlight shimmering over the Pacific coast, dappled light illuminating the mysterious green paradise of Mr. Hiroshi's garden in the late afternoon, and the fiery glow of the setting sun on the evening Mr. Hiroshi told Mary he had to leave the next day, and she promised to take care of the garden until his return.
When he didn't return and the house was sold, Mary took a stone and two iris bulbs from the garden to plant in the prairies, in honour and in memory of Mr. Hiroshi. "It was a small thing. But then a garden must begin somewhere."
The feeling of loss, injustice, and disharmony-social and natural-is made all the more compelling by the quiet lyricism and eloquent understatement of the text and pictures. Trottier's story and Morin's paintings, like a Zen garden, provoke thought and reflection on this shameful episode in Canadian history.
Boy of the Deeps
32 pages, $16.95 cloth
by Sherie Posesorski
It's the turn of the century in Cape Breton, and young James is getting ready for his first day of working in a coal mine. His Da, himself a miner for twenty years, voices his confidence and pride in his son: "You have coal in your blood, same as me." His mother's pride though is mingled with worry. She warns him: "Take care, my son. You know the deeps is dangerous."
Those sentiments-pride coupled with acute consciousness of the many dangers-are carried by every miner, and are as much tools of the trade as their picks, shovels, and lanterns in Ian Wallace's Boy of the Deeps.
In direct, understated but powerful prose, Wallace relates how James experiences his first day in the mines. The story is loosely based on the tales told to him by his English miner grandfather, and is both a rite-of-initiation narrative and a day-in-the-life-styled documentary.
The story is complemented by Wallace's dark, somber, grainy pictures. They have the still quality of posed photographs and bring to mind the documentary photographs of American working children done by Lewis Hine in the early part of the twentieth century, which captured the individuality of young labourers and their harsh working conditions.
On their walk to work, James and his father are joined by the other miners and together they form a parade. At the entrance, James is stopped short by the sight of the mine, "a beast rising from the sea". Once inside, the muted golden hues of daybreak are replaced by the blue black perpetual night of the mine, a "darkness that was darker than a raven's eye," says James. He is amazed by the size of this "bustling city underground", and overwhelmed by the smell of coal and rock, and the sounds of dripping water and grinding metal. His Da tutors him to swing a pick, dig a trench, and blast coal loose from the tunnel walls.
The shock of the new heightens James' emotions and sensory awareness. Belonging to a community that prizes reticence, James never directly expresses what he is feeling; rather, Wallace indirectly communicates James' flaring excitement and fears through imaginative similes and analogies.
This first day will be one that James will never forget-both typical and eventful. It is marked by back-breaking work, the camaraderie of the other miners, and a potentially life-threatening accident in which Da, by his example, shows James that they must take such happenings in stride for "they were miners and that was their job". Their stoic acceptance of the ever-present risks and threats is made all the more impressive by Wallace's unsensationalized dramatization of it.
Boy of the Deeps is a moving testament and an initiation into the world of childhood labour and mining, so distant as to be unimaginable, but made vividly real in this excellent picture book.
Alexander Graham Bell:
An Inventive Life
Kids Can Press
32 pages, $6.95 paper
The Hydrofoil Mystery
211 pages, $22.99 cloth
by Jeffrey Canton
It seems that the brilliant Canadian inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, is a hot (and fitting) subject these days for writers of children's fiction and educational books.
Elizabeth MacLeod's Alexander Graham Bell: An Inventive Life is a good place for kids to start delving into the life and times of this amazing figure. MacLeod focuses on the highlights to help young readers get a sense of who Bell was and how significant his scientific contributions were for the world.
Invention, as MacLeod points out, is the operative word when looking at Bell's achievements. The telephone, the audiometer, the photophone, the graphophone, devices for distilling drinking water from sea water, a vacuum jacket (a precursor of the Iron Lung)-these are just some of his many inventions. Bell, as we learn, was also the president of the American Association for the Promotion of Teaching Speech to the Deaf (he spent much of his life working to help the deaf learn to communicate better) and a regent of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.
Alexander Graham Bell: An Inventive Life is packed with pertinent information, it is easy to read, and it includes an excellent chronology of Bell's life and times as well as great photographs, working notes, and sketches. The well-designed book is accessible to young readers, and for those who want to learn more about one of the most famous scientists and inventors of all times, MacLeod appropriately includes a list of web sites.
On the fictional end is award-winning Eric Walters' fast-paced, action-packed mystery, The Hydrofoil Mystery. This novel is sure to be just as popular with his pre-teen and younger teen fans as his earlier works, Stand Your Ground and Stars (which won the Silver Birch Award), and his first historical novel, Trapped in Ice (shortlisted for a Ruth Schwartz Award).
Set in 1917 in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, the novel follows fifteen-year-old Billy McCracken as he falls headfirst into a world of invention, intrigue, and action. Billy, of course, would rather be hanging around Halifax with his friends, getting into trouble around the poker table or throwing dice, but his mother doesn't want him to throw his life away and has found the young hooligan a summer job at Beinn Bhreagh, the summer home of Alexander Graham Bell.
Billy resents having to work around the estate, chopping wood, shovelling sheep manure, and helping out at evening parties at the main house. He is determined not to fit in at Beinn Bhreagh-that is, until he becomes intrigued by one of the projects on which Bell and his team are working. Bell is developing a hydrofoil, the HD-4, for the Royal Navy to attack German U-boats and submarines. Because the project is dangerous and top-secret, he doesn't want Billy involved. But when someone tries to sabotage the HD-4 and Billy is on hand to help Bell save it, things begin to change.
Walters inventively mixes fact and fiction as fictional Billy becomes involved in Bell's actual work on the hydrofoil (the HD-4 set a world speed record in 1919) and gets caught up in a gripping, suspenseful spy story. There are problems with Walters' vocabulary, and the use of "yeah" and "okay" throughout seems historically inaccurate. An appendix on just what is fact and fiction and listing sources for further reading would have made The Hydrofoil Mystery an even better read, for kids and adults alike. Nevertheless, it's exciting to have an opportunity to relive a great moment in Canadian history and for younger readers to be introduced in a compelling fictional format to one of our truly great Canadian heroes.
From fact to fiction and back again, Canadian history comes alive in our children's books!
Lord of the Fries and Other Stories
198 pages, $9.95 paper
by Marnie Parsons
The title of Tim Wynne-Jones's book isn't simply a nod to its first story, nor to William Golding's dark novel about the lie of childhood innocence and the human capacity for brutality. It's a clue to the spirited dynamic of this fine and crisply-written volume which, with equal measure of wit and thoughtfulness, tells of young people finding their way in, and into, the world-and doing so, usually, in company with literature. Many wonderful texts form the fabric of this book, but they are folded into Wynne-Jones's own work with an intelligence and humour which make their subtlety more than just subtextual. Stories are part of the emotional, intellectual, and visceral complex within which we live, and those Wynne-Jones borrows from are no less deeply entwined with the lives of his stories. His characters confront the world's harshnesses and intricacies, the unlikely vulnerabilities of acquaintances and their own potential for dark emotions; they filter such confrontation with their own creativity through the patterns that stories offer us for interpreting ourselves and other stories. In so doing, Wynne-Jones's characters often discover the power of their own voices, learn to use them (and language) responsibly.
So we can read the title story against Golding, read all of the stories against Golding, if we keep a sense of proportion about such allusion. More immediately, we can read "Lord of the Fries" against "Rumpelstiltskin", since the title character playfully borrows that name. Yet the story isn't a re-writing of the Grimm classic, despite many intersections. Yes, there's a prince (Jack Prince, car dealer), and a miller's daughter (who works at the Dairy Queen and shares her name with Henry James's Daisy). There's even an angry little man who helps Daisy more than once. But to read the story only as literary re-positioning would be to neglect the depth of relationship between, and the integrity of, these independent stories. It would be to make Wynne-Jones's story what neither it nor life is-tidy and simple. "Rumpelstiltskin" gives tentative shape to a story that reaches in many directions, engaging such topics as individuality, privacy, and respect. Similarly, Treasure Island lends temporary shape to "The Bermuda Triangle"; Anne of Green Gables informs "The Anne Rehearsals" (Anne is the literary passion of the narrator, but also has a larger presence in the story); and the myth of Satan's fall animates "The Fallen Angel". Each literary precursor enriches the story it resonates with, and is itself enriched by association.
These relations between stories are never single; they are made even more multiple and diverse by additional resonances-some serious, others not. "The Bermuda Triangle" holds in delicate balance pirates and buried treasure as well as the inexplicable, heart-wrenching disappearance of a dearly loved father. "The Fallen Angel" adopts the Stanley Cup playoffs as an oblique holy war, almost as delightfully as Wayne Johnston's The Divine Ryans. The subtle puns, the elastic stretching of allusion and reference throughout broaden the volume's reach and deepen its sophistication. This rich, funny collection is beautifully crafted and intensely felt-a truly lovely book.
Touch of the Clown
223 pages, $8.95 paper
by Sherie Posesorski
Escaping into entertainment proves to be both life-sustaining and life-denying in Glen Huser's first young adult novel, Touch of the Clown.
The story turns on the hard social realities of child abuse, neglect, poverty, alcoholism, and AIDS. It could easily have become a treacly tearjerker or a sentimental comedy as nauseatingly manipulative and dishonest as the recent movie, Patch Adams. But Huser's assured, delicate blending of the buoyantly comic with the unflinchingly realistic makes it truthful without being bleak, positive without being cloyingly rosy.
The novel is narrated by Barbara Stanwyck Kobleimer, a thirteen-year-old who, like her movie star namesake, is smart and tougher than she realizes despite her vulnerabilities. Barbara and younger sister Olivia de Havilland have been raised in a poor Edmonton neighbourhood where a high premium is put on escapist entertainment. (Their mother had worked in a concession stand at the movie theatre where their father was an usher.) What little get-up-and-go their father once had has long gone since the death of his wife from cancer: he spends his days drinking sherry and watching old movies with his equally hard-drinking mother, evading parental responsibilities and living itself. So Barbara becomes the family caregiver and caretaker: she cooks and cleans for her father and sharp-tongued, selfish grandmother, and parents the willful, high-spirited Livvy. Most of the time, Barbara stoically soldiers along, but sometimes the weight of the responsibilities is too much to bear and she feels stuck in a perpetual present where the future seems to hold only more of the same... or worse. Small wonder she occasionally escapes into her books and happy memories of her mother.
Then a door is opened by Cosmo Farber. Cosmo is a clown whom the sisters meet when Livvy runs smack into the path of his bike. He befriends the girls, who are drawn to his warmth, gentleness, and understanding of loss, loneliness, and pain. That experience, which has made their father retreat from life, has intensified Cosmo's love of life-and of clowning and forms of entertainment that open us up to joy and wonder.
Cosmo urges Barbara to join his clown workshop. There, Barbara, so beaten down that she's been afraid to imagine a better life, begins to imagine. She is encouraged by the example of Cosmo, who has been fighting AIDS, and who teaches his students not just the rudiments of acting and clowning, but also how "to develop ways to keep this childlike sense of joy close by...as a kind of life-saver."
No matter how grim things get-and grim they do get after Cosmo dies and she and Livvy are placed in foster care-Barbara now has the tools of hope and imagination to help her improve her life. A moving, unforgettable novel!
The Hidden World
336 pages, $19.99 paper
by Jeffrey Canton
Maeve O'Connor yearns for escape. It's bad enough she's a "Plain Jane", she can't even get a role in the school play because she's not one of the popular crowd. To make matters worse, her parents are embroiled in a squabble that is set to explode and Maeve is powerless to do anything about it. Then when her parents send her off to spend the summer in Newfoundland, Maeve isn't sure what to think. Are they just trying to get rid of her? Or do they really want her to get to know her relatives better?
Maeve is certainly curious about the isle and intrigued by the part her family has played in its history as well as by the stories of the fairies that are part of Newfoundland's folk culture. She has always felt an affinity with the Rock because of the special relationship she shared with her grandmother who lived there all her life. Grandmother O'Connor had written a children's book that Maeve had especially loved; it mixed fiction with folklore and followed a young girl's adventure into a hidden world, Annwn (pronounced An-noon), "a land of fairies and giants and dragons, of knights and kings". When Maeve discovers her grandmother's notebooks and a beautiful Celtic broach, she becomes even more interested in the island's Celtic lore.
But never in her wildest dreams did Maeve believe that she would really be able to enter that fictional hidden world. Then she stumbles on a portal into Annwn, and begins an amazing adventure that is packed with fairies, monsters, demons, and spirits, and she partakes in an exciting struggle between good and evil that changes her life.
Baird has created a stunning fantasy world using Celtic myths and legends, but with her own unique twist. The fantasy sections make for compelling reading, and the reader is just as surprised as Maeve is when she enters Annwn and discovers that this parallel world is as real as her own. Baird draws the reader in with Maeve gradually until we too are caught up in the spell that this other world casts. Baird also provides readers with a fairly thorough pronunciation guide to the Gaelic and Irish words. Where The Hidden World falters-not a lot, but just enough to give the reader pause-is in Baird's depiction of the here-and-now world that Maeve inhabits, and particularly the family crisis and its resolution. But with that said, the author also invitingly opens up a gateway for young adult readers into a well-realized world that combines history, mythology, folklore, and a darn good yarn to boot.
What They Don't Know
240 pages, $9.99 paper
by Julie Burtinshaw
Anita Horrocks has done it again. In her second novel for young adults, she has written a compelling, good-to-the-last-page story for teens and about teens. Narrator Kelly Farrell is a seventeen-year-old honours student who begins by telling us: "Most of the story is about Hannah, after all, not me. She's the one solidly at the center of things while I watch from around the edges."
Kelly learns that the edges in family life are blurred: the behaviour of one person dramatically impacts on the lives of everyone around her. Kelly's younger sister, Hannah, is on a slippery path to self-destruction. She is consumed by anger and self-loathing and her already fragile family is disintegrating right along with her.
Why has she replaced her old friends with a group of kids whose behaviour recognizes neither moral nor legal boundaries? What happened at the high school science fair to make fourteen-year-old Hannah plummet into a despair that threatens to ruin her life and destroy her whole family? Are the answers hidden in the secret box stashed under Hannah's bed? Nobody knows, but Kelly has to find out-even if it means confronting some difficult truths about their parents.
"In Hannah's box of secrets, I found a battered and torn poster from her science fair project last February. I found a lot of things, but the poster reminds me it was at the science fair that Hannah's story, which began who knows where, first screamed to be heard."
What They Don't Know is an intriguing tale and more. There is a voyeuristic twist that will rivet the attention of even the most impatient adolescent reader. Those who have read Griffen and Sabine will recognize the guilty pleasure in reading a story in which we are encouraged to peer furtively at another person's secret writings. Horrocks' story is sprinkled with visual surprises: hand-written notes scrawled on the backs of old envelopes, probation reports, a receipt from a tattoo shop, postcards from the girl's absent mother, newspaper clippings, court documents, and other correspondence that Kelly discovers in Hannah's secret box. Each serves to propel the story forward at a dizzying rate. Will it end in disaster or resolution?
In the end, Kelly makes a great discovery: "Telling Hannah's story made it my story, too. Because the shape that emerged as I told it was my own, and that discovery changed me. But the story is not over yet. Hannah's. Mine. There are so many different beginnings... Another one is now."
What They Don't Know is a novel about choices and consequences, truth and loyalty, love and family. It lingered with me long after I turned the last page and passed it on to my own daughter-who gave it a rave review.