I CAN scarcely remember a time when I didn't have a book in my hands. Reading has always been my doorway to discovery, my avenue to adventure; with the turning of each page, a new delight is revealed. It's too bad that children often miss such simple pleasures in this age of video. Fortunately, those who do open a book are still rewarded for the effort, as new wonders await their discovery.
Discovery was a common theme in the books that my 10-year-old friend Julia and I reviewed; and it's the motivation behind Diane Swanson's activity book, A Toothy Tongue and One Long Foot (Whitecap, 92 pages, $9.95 paper). The simple instructions, supported by large line drawings, several of which are suitable for colouring, encourage children to explore their natural environment. Most regions of the country are represented in both rural and urban settings. Although some activities can be enhanced by using basic household utensils, a magnifying glass is all that young explorers really require to use this book.
Shar Levine and Allison Grafton are less successful with Projects for a Healthy Planet: Simple Environmental Experiments for Kids (Wiley, 93 pages, $12.95 paper). It is difficult to tell what some of the drawings represent, and though many attempt to he funny, most are lifeless. Instructions are complicated, thus limiting the book's value for younger environmental enthusiasts. Older children, however, may find the book worthwhile, since it deals with such topical issues as acid rain.
The Mother-Tree (Beach Holme, 40 pages, $14.95 paper) encourages children to make a different sort of discovery. Andrea de Cosmos's near-poetic text helps the reader to see just how similar people are, even if they are physically challenged, and Mavis Andrews's simple pencil drawings subtly complement the story. Julia liked this book because of its "realness."
She also enjoyed the fast-paced adventure story Fiona and the Prince of Wheels (Orca, 120 pages, $7.95 paper), by Sandy Watson. The publisher has recommended the book for seven- to 10-year-olds, but on this point I have reservations: I can't imagine many children that age knowing what "extricated" means or who Princess Josephine and John Lennon were. The text would have benefited from more careful editing. Children in the Vancouver area may enjoy the local references.
Steve Berry's The Boy Who Wouldn't Speak (Annick, 32 pages, $14.95 cloth, $4.95 paper) also deals with individual differences. An interesting variation of the acceptance story, it focuses on the question of size rather than the more usual issues of racism or sexism. The difference between five-year-old Owen and the giants Fred and Lola is emphasized in Deirdre Betteridge's colourful drawings, in which scenes are depicted from the perspective of both the boy and the giants.
Kathy Stinson deals with a personal discovery in Steven's Baseball Mitt: A Book About Being Adopted (Annick, 32 pages, $14-95 cloth, $4.95 paper). Robin Baird Lewis's pencil drawings add to the gentleness of the story. Although the book has a positive message, I found a number of elements disturbing: for example, the imaginary birth-mother is a stereotype blonde and good-looking - while the adoptive mother is heavier and less attractive. I can believe that adopted children might imagine that their birth-mother is famous or that they were given up because they cried too much. I'm less certain that a child would think "she was a teenager who wouldn't be able to take care of me very well, no matter how much she wanted to" unless prompted by an adult. And how many children will be able to equate Steven's search for his baseball mitt with his search for understanding his place in the family? Most disturbing was Steven's repeated comment that he felt "different." Are we to think that being adopted was his only reason for feeling this way?
Readers of Mrs. Mortifee's Mouse (HarperCollins, 32 pages, $12.95 cloth) will enjoy doing some searching of their own. Linda Hendry has packed a lot of detail into her vividly coloured drawings - some of the action even spills over onto the white pages! The limited text allows readers plenty of time to find the mouse, count the traps, and examine other details. Though the book is aimed at the three- to six-year-old crowd, older children and adults will appreciate the subtle humour.
Dragon in the Rocks (Greey de Pencier, 32 pages, $14.95 cloth) has the potential to attract an equally wide audience. Marie Day's choice of watercolour to illustrate her text is in keeping with this account of a young girl who becomes an important paleontologist. Though the story drags a bit, the book could act as an introduction to fossils or be of interest to a dinosaur fan.
If playing with rocks appeals to readers, they may want to try Soapstone Carving for Children (Penumbra, 46 pages, $12.95 paper). Bonnie and Dave Gosse use photographs to accompany their step-by-step instructions, which are simple and admirably safety-conscious. All of the projects are easy enough for children to attempt, and the photos of children at work on carvings will encourage young readers to try it themselves. A history of the art, a bibliography, and list of suppliers extend the usefulness of the book.