holds for Canada, Native people seem destined to play an increasingly important role as land claims and demands for self-government come to the fore. We still have a lot to learn about our First Nations, so it is fitting that half of these books deal with some aspect of Native culture.
The Spring Celebration (Pemmican, 24 pages, $9.95 paper) is a story from the Cree community of Brochette in northern Manitoba. Iskotew, a small, red-haired girl, waits with the rest of her community for the first warm Sunday of spring. Then, everyone crosses the ice to an island where they cook a meal to celebrate the end of winter. Nothing much happens in this low-key story; the kids rush around, pick sites for their campfires, and eat. This is just fine. We need more books that show Native children in realistic settings. The author, Tina Umpherville, based her story on her childhood memories. Christine Rice, her co-author and illustrator, provides gentle watercolour illustrations that match the realistic tone of the narrative. The Spring Celebration will help urban children to know something of life in the North.
Bill Ballantyne's Wesakejack and the Bears and Wesakejack and the Flood (Bain & Cox, each 32 pages, $12.95 each cloth) are rooted in Cree culture as well. Ballantyne is a storyteller who aims to keep the legends and language of his people alive, and he does so here in a unique way: the texts are given in both English and Cree on every page.
Wesakejack and the Flood is a classic flood story; because man and animals are fighting and killing without cause, the Creator floods the earth. Wesakejack gets on a log with muskrat, otter, and beaver. Finally, the rain stops. With great difficulty, little muskrat manages to bring a small amount of soil up from beneath the flood waters. Wesakejack blows this into a land mass and the earth becomes liveable once again. Wesakejack and the Bears is much less serious. When Wesakejack tries to catch fish, his efforts are so comical that the bears are afraid they will laugh themselves to death. Finally, they catch some fish for Wesakejack.
Both books feature Linda Mullin's full-colour illustrations. She puts lots of expression into her animal characters, especially those hilarious bears. The Cree and English texts are placed side by side throughout. Both books are lucidly written, though Wesakejack and the Bears is noticeably simpler than Wesakejack and the Flood. Perhaps, with learners in mind, an effort was made to provide stories of differing levels of difficulty. In any case, these books are nicely made, well written, and attractive.
Jan Bourdeau Waboose's Where Only the Elders Go -- Moon Lake Loon Lake (Penumbra, 24 pages, $8.95 paper) is the most ambitious of these books in literary terms. Waboose weaves a slight but intricate tale of a young Qjibway boy who hears the
loon and remembers Mishomis, his dead grandfather. We then travel into the grandfather's mind at the time of his death, and see that dying is a natural part of the cycle of life. The final pages of the book show that the young boy has come to understand this as well. The story is carefully written, poetic in its use of rhythm and repetition. Halina Below's illustrations, worked mostly in nocturnal blues, match the text very well. This lovely book is perfect for bedtime reading, and suitable for any child who has questions about death. I only wish the author had trusted her audience to understand the nuances of her story, rather than hammering home the mystic nature of the loon and the importance of nature to Ojibway culture. This small quibble aside, Moon Lake Loon Lake is a remarkably moving and finely crafted work.
The topic of death brings us to Morning Light: An Educational Storybook for Children and Their Caregivers About HIV/AIDS and Saying Goodbye (Stoddart, 32 pages, $6.95 paper) by Margaret Merrifield. The subtitle says it all. The twins Max and Maggie live with their single mother, who has AIDS. As they grow,
their mother becomes sicker and sicker. Ultimately she dies and the twins are taken by their aunt and uncle. Heather Collins's illustrations help to portray the twins' emotions and show their mother's gradual decline. This sensitive story will doubtless serve a useful purpose, but it is bibliotherapy, not recreational reading. Whereas any child can read Moon Lake Loon Lake and learn something applicable to life in general, Morning Light is strong medicine with specific aims. This said, Morning Light is good bibliotherapy, with five pages of suggestions at the end of the story to help children deal with HIV, AIDS, and grieving.
Jean Little and Claire Mackay's Bats About Baseball (Penguin, 32 pages, $17.99 cloth) is a playful swing at sports fans -- represented in this case by a fanatical granny. Young Ryder suspects that his grandmother cares more about baseball than she does about him, until he really listens to her. Then he realizes that she is actually responding to his conversation with a series of puns while also cheering the game. Little and Mackay are two of Canada's leading children's authors, so it isn't surprising that this is such a witty and
creative book. Kim LaFave's illustrations are just as playful.
The two non-fiction books in this lot continue the tradition of high-quality science books for kids from Canadian publishers. Sylvia Funston and Jay Ingram take on all those budding neurologists out there (aged nine and up) with A Kid's Guide to the Brain (Owl Books, 64 pages, $16.95 cloth, $9.95 paper). This book tells you more than you ever imagined anyone knew about the brain, looking at the senses, emotions, memory, and thinking. Each section includes activities to demonstrate things your brain can and can't do and even things it does better or worse depending on your gender. Funston and Ingram write in a clear, easy-to-understand style. I found Gary Clement's illustrations a bit too childlike for the subject matter, but photographs add a more realistic touch.
How on Earth? A Question-and-Answer Book About How Our Planet Works (Key Porter, 96 pages, $16.95 paper) by Ronald Orenstein, is oriented towards information rather than activities. This book has scope -geology, evolution, meteorology, paleontology, ecology -- and covers everything from plate tectonics to DNA, with lots of stops in between. It's the kind of book you'll probably dip into rather than read from start to finish, and it has an interesting "hyper-text" feature borrowed from computer software. For example, in "Survival of the Fittest" a question is posed ("Are extinct species failures?"). This leads to another topic on a distant page.
The book is lavishly illustrated with colour photos. Orenstein aims at the six-to-10 set, but I don't know any six-year- olds who could take on this book by themselves. In fact, most kids in this age group will probably need adult assistance. On the whole, How on Earth 9 is not quite as accessible as A Kid's Guide to the Brain. But, if your kids ask a lot of tough questions about life, the planet, and everything, you may want to have this book around.