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Children`S Books
by Rita Donovan

Karleen Bradford`s Animal Heroes (Scholastic, 90 pages, $4.99 paper) is probably the most straightforward of the books Ireceived. This is the kind of book I ate up as a kid - simple true-lifestories of animals who wake you up when the burglar comes, push you off the road at the last minute, fight bears... fight bears? These are mostly cats and dogs, mind you, and the best part is... there are photos of the heroes! The easy-to-read text and shortchapters will allow children to read it themselves, and the domesticated heroeswill send kids in search of a camera and the cat. The remainder of the books are what I`d call"specialized." How Eagle GotHis Good Eyes (Willowwisp Press, 26 pages, $4.40 paper), which was the Canadian winner of the Kids Are AuthorsAward, was written by Grade 5 students and illustrated by Grade 7 students atOscar Blackburn School in South Indian Lake, Manitoba. Inspired by severalNative Canadian myths, this school project is written in English and includes aCree translation. While clearly delighting in its Native background, it offersa good story with universal appeal, involving Nanabush ( a trickster), and hislatest victim, Eagle. Children will enjoy listening to Nanabush bargain withand try to trick Eagle. They might even pick up a few pointers. They will alsoenjoy the brilliant-coloured, eyecatching drawings. Because of thetimelessness of the legend, this book has the chance of becoming a long-termfavourite. Less accessible is Dave Bouchard`s The Meaning of Respect (Pemmican, 24 pages, $9.95 paper). With a title like this, kidsknow the book is going to be good for them. It tells the story of a Cree boygetting counselling from his Moshum (grandfather) on the reserve. The voice isblunt, the lines around the boy tightly drawn: "It is just too bad thatyou couldn`t have fun and team at the same time," says the boy. We knowwhere this is going. The book has useful information about life on thereserve but feels compelled to turn every observation into a statement: re trapping:"... we don`t just trap forthe money"; re fishing: "and if you don`t keep it [the fish],you should get it back into the water, quick and unharmed." Part of this, of course, is the whole process theyouth is undergoing. He is, after all, supposed to be getting instruction. Butfor some reason the experience of reading about it is like watching somebody doextra lessons after school. The drawings by Les Culleton are pleasant enough, butthey cannot lift this story above its parochial concerns. Dragon in the Rocks (Owl, 32 pages, $5.95paper), by Marie Day, is a book that relies heavily on the author`s beautifulartwork to tell this award-winning true-life story of the world`sfirst child paleontologist, a little 19th-century English girl named MaryAnning. To A those children who incessantly bleat throughout their bedtimestories, "Is it true? But, is it true?" the happy parent can reply,"Yes, this time it`s true." And fascinating. Which is probably why itwas selected as a White Raven Book for UNESCO`s International Youth Library,and as an "Our Choice" book by the Canadian Children`s Book Centre. But while stories don`t come much better than this interms of their raw material, there was the occasional note of preachiness inthe text: "Nonsense, Joseph .... If your sister is determined to dig thatcreature out of the cliff, she will." And I was truly saddened not to haveheard more from Mary herself. Once she decides to go after the dinosaur, wenever get the sense of what it would be like for a 12-year-old todo this extraordinary thing. She proceeds, and when she pauses and muses shesounds like a technician or an assistant on a dig: "What was her dragonlike when it was alive? What colour was it? ... What did it eat ... ?` Aptenough questions, but no whoops of 12-year-old excitement. Still, there aren`t too many girls, even today, whofind and reconstruct a dinosaur, and children, particularly girls, will find aheroine in Mary. Carolyn Jackson`s The Flying Ark (Stoddart, 32 pages,$7.95 paper) is a book that has carved out a niche for itself. It is the non-fictionstory of how animals travel by airplane. There probably won`t be another bookwith this storyline competing for shelf space at the local bookstore. This bookis likely to appeal to older children who will enjoy the odd facts about theanimals as well as their elaborate travel arrangements. They will also like theamusing drawings by Graham Bardell. This is not a bedtime read but preciselythe sort of book a kid would read on a plane while the ostriches sleep below. My only problem with The Flying Ark was a certaintone that ran through it. Call it annoying anthropocentrism, call it sucking-up-to-kids.Something that made me feel more than a little sorry for these creatures thatfor whatever ill luck ended up at the mercy of human handlers, and airlines,and authors who, for example, comment on the effectiveness of the nostril-to-lipsplit of a camel with: "Disgusting, but a good way to save moisture."Most kids might love this, but watch out for those fourth-grade deepecologists. The last book comes with a gimmick that is at leastuseful. Sharon McKay and David MacLeod throw in a pair of small collapsiblebinoculars with their book Take a Hike (Scholastic, 137 pages, $14.99 paper). This is anicely put together reference book, the sort that a parent and child -or, in the old days when kids were safe to come and go, a couple of friendsmight study to plan a day of adventure. There is much information here that isavailable elsewhere, but it is the compact portability of this book that willprove attractive to young hikers. The text is divided into hikes for specificclimates and locations. The binoculars fit in a child`s pocket. It is a goodbet that kids will like this introduction to hiking manuals. Brings back memories. A bag with one or two squashedsandwiches, a bottle of Orange Crush, a couple of well-worn Classic comicbooks, children`s literature on the move.

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