We are happy to introduce our new Children's Books Editor, Jeffrey Canton. Jeffrey has been involved extensively in the Canadian Children's Lit community over the years, and was formerly with the Canadian Children's Book Centre. His reviews have appeared in a number of Canadian newspapers and magazines. He lives in Toronto.
Who am I? Is there only one of me in the world? Will I be a hero some day? Is my whole life mapped out in advance? Or will I have to find my way all by myself? Sometimes I feel like I don't fit in my body! Imagine if we could switch bodies... or at least hide the parts we don't like! Who decided what the first human being would look like? What if we grew out of the ground like vegetables... or if we were manufactured... or made from recycled parts?
These are just some of the questions asked in Michele Lemieux's insightful new book for young readers, Stormy Night. First published in 1996 in Germany, Stormy Night has been translated into nine languages and it won the prestigious 1997 Bologna Ragazzi Award. Lemieux's previous books include a selection of the poems of Edward Lear, There Was an Old Man, and picture book versions of Peter and the Wolf, Amahl and the Night Visitors, and the David Booth anthology, Voices on the Wind: Poems for All Seasons, which won an IODE Book Award.
On a stormy night, a young girl lies in bed awake, thinking aloud, asking herself, or her dog, Fido, questions, seeking answers. She might get out of bed and look out the window at the dark clouds or curl up under the covers, keeping the thunder and lightning at bay. The book is filled with thoughts, ideas, feelings, desires, questions, hopes, wishes.
What makes Stormy Night such a unique book is the combination of a profoundly simple but evocative text with stunningly realized black and white line drawings. Reminiscent of the work of artists like Edward Gorey, William Steig, M.B. Goffstein, and Shel Silverstein, Lemieux has filled Stormy Night with images and ideas that are at once playful and profound. She has a wonderful sense of the macabre. Imagining being able to switch bodies, our heroine envisions a skeleton standing in front of a closet filled with "body" suits with a selection of heads available on a nearby bureau. Pondering what happens after we die, she asks herself if death simply erases our memories, while we watch someone vacuuming up the memories out of a hinge-opened head. A sneaky devil prepares to roll up the world like a scroll after the world ends, and manufactured bodies roll out on an assembly line. But the book is also filled with images that will make readers chuckle and giggle with sheer delight. A teeny-tiny, white-bearded God peers down a hole into a universe filled with stars and planets. Human beings grow out of the ground like vegetables.
Lemieux has said of Stormy Night, "I wanted to create a book that invites one to talk about oneself, a book that opens the way for discussion. I never intended to give any answers, nor did I want to frighten, comfort or make certain topics harmless. I wanted to talk of life, fate, dreams, anxiety and even death, for death is a part of life. I did this by using everyday words, by sketching certain scenes which the words triggered in me. Each question opens a universe of pictures and metaphors, which are already a part of the answer."
There is a rich world to discover in the pages of this provocative picture book. While some picture books are suited to just one audience, others, like Stormy Night, can touch readers of all ages, travelling effortlessly beyond borders. The book's publishing history speaks to its ability to cross boundaries, both physical and cultural. It's a winner, no matter which way you look at like. And it's 100% Canadian, too!