Aska's Birds

by Warabe Aska (Illustrator), David Day
32 pages,
ISBN: 0385253885

Purple, Green and Yellow

by Helene Desputeaux (Illustrator), Robert N. Munsch
32 pages,
ISBN: 1550372564

The Zoom Trilogy (Common Reader Editions)

by Tim Wynne-Jones, Eric Beddows (Illustrator)
36 pages,
ISBN: 1888173165

Dinosaur Duster

by Donn Kushner, Marc Mongeau (Illustrator)
32 pages,
ISBN: 1895555388

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Adventures With Colour
by Diane Schoemperlen

When I received this batch of books to review, I knew immediately which would be my seven-year-old son`s favourite. Alexander seized upon Murphy the Rat: Tales of Tough City (Northern Lights/Red Deer College, 32 pages, $14.95 cloth) with unmitigated delight, and his high expectations were amply rewarded. A collection of poetry intended, in the words of the author, Paul Duggan, "to revive the spirit and fun of Hallowe`en year round," this book details the adventures not only of Murphy, a vicious little sewer rat, but also of many other ghoulish creatures who inhabit Tough City. There`s a charming girl named Sally, for instance: Sally, go and brush your teeth Brush them good and hard; They look like they were left beneath The compost in the yard. There`s poor Uncle Ned, who suffers a variety of indignities in Tough City: From Murphy the Rat: Tales of Tough City They played a trick on Uncle Ned, It made the neighbors grin, They pumped him full of helium Then poked him with a pin. Daniel Sylvestre`s intricate and richly coloured depictions of the creepy characters on the city`s dark side are a perfect counterpoint to the poems. Alexander couldn`t turn the pages fast enough. He`s had this bent towards the macabre for years now (I wonder where it comes from surely not from me). In our house Hallowe`en rivals Christmas for holiday excitement, and although Teenage Mutant Ninja a Turtles, Batman, and other contemporary characters come and go frequently, Dracula and Frankenstein are forever. But even Alexander was dismayed by some poems that go too far. We were both bothered, for example, by "The End of Tommy": Tommy chased the squirrels around, He said it was such fun; Until one day a squirrel went out And bought a Tommy gun. When Alexander is not impersonating vampires, he likes to play "workerman," and so was very much interested in Skookum Sam, Spar Tree Man (Polestar, 24 pages, $12.95 cloth) - Heather Kellerhals-Stewart tells the story of a wild West Coast logger who is about to be replaced by a machine. Skookurn Sam says he can run circles around the steel spar tree, but he is caught up a huge tree in a sudden thunderstorm. While turning a headstand to show he is fearless and undefeated, Sam is struck by lightning. He is never seen again. Or is he? The book includes a glossary of logging terms, including "spar tree," at the end. These explanations might better have been incorporated into the text, for this arrangement necessitated a lot of distracting flipping back and forth. Claire Kujundzic`s illustrations, although perhaps intended to be simple or stylistically primitive, appear rather amateurish. Mysteriously enough, there is no picture of the steel spar tree. This proved to be a frustrating omission for Alexander, and I was unable to provide enough details to help him imagine it. Along with vampires and workermen, dinosaurs are also a perennial favourite at our house. The Dinosaur Duster (Lester, 3 2 pages, $16.95 cloth) is a wonderful book sure to be enjoyed, as they say, by adults and children alike. Written by Donn Kushner (not only an award-winning author, but also a world-famous microbiologist and an accomplished violinist), this book is both funny and intelligent. TWO dinosaur skeletons, a stegosaurus and a triceratops, are the pride and joy of the museum where they are displayed. They are lovingly tended by old Mr. Mopski who, like the dinosaurs, is from the Carpathian Mountains and is always singing old folk songs from his homeland while he works. The dinosaur skeletons get to reminiscing with Mr. Mopski. They admit that they are both unhappy with their views from the museum windows. The stegosaurus, who looks upon a peaceful park, longs for excitement and action. The triceratops, who looks upon a busy city street, longs for peace and quiet. The solution is obvious: they should switch places. But they are much too big for Mr. Mopski to move. He comes up with an innovative compromise: he switches their heads. The next morning three visiting dinosaur experts discover what they think are two new species, a tricerosaurus and a stegatops. Immediately the skeletons and Mr. Mopski are sent out on a world tour, and exhibited at famous museums in Paris, Florence, and London. But they are too homesick to enjoy themselves, and so Mr. Mopski must come up with another innovative solution to get them all home safe and sound. Of course the moral of the story is "There`s no place like home," but Kushner is not heavy-handed or didactic. Marc Mongeau`s illustrations are excellent, skewing size, shape, and perspective in an unpredictable way that Alexander found fascinating and hilarious. Another book with a message is Thistle Broth (Orca, 32 pages, $8.95 paper). Young Tom is repeatedly told by his father, Old Thomas, to "do the most important thing first!" But as his list of demands grows ever longer and more outlandish (including bandaging the clouds, sewing up the moon, sticking the stars back onto the sky, and making some thistle broth to help the moaning wind feel better), Young Tom realizes he must decide for himself what is the most important thing. No reader can miss Richard Thompson`s primary message here about setting priorities and thinking for yourself But an implicit message comes out just as strongly: by and large, parents are demanding, unreasonable, and cantankerous. Alexander said Old Thomas must be the kind of father who makes kids run away from home. Henry Fernandes`s illustrations are far more compelling and light-hearted than the story. No biographical information is given about either the author or the illustrator, a lack that left Alexander feeling cheated. For him, this information, preferably with photographs, seems to be an essential part of getting to know a new book. I don`t think it is just because his mother is a writer that he likes to know who made the books he reads; somehow these details make him feel more personally connected to any given story. Of course he already knows all about Robert Munsch, whose latest title is Purple, Green and Yellow (Annick, 32 pages, $14.95 cloth). With charming illustrations by Helene Desputeaux in vivid primary colours, the book tells the story of Brigid and her colouring markers. After much convincing, her mother agrees to buy her 500 washable colouring markers just like her friends have - on the condition that Brigid doesn`t colour on the walls, the floor, or herself. All goes well. Brigid wants 500 more colouring markers, this time the ones that smell. Again all goes well. Now Brigid persuades her mother to buy her the best kind of markers: 500 "super-indelible-nevercomeoff-till-you`re-dead-and-maybe-evenlater colouring markers." All goes well for three weeks. Then Brigid gets bored and the fun begins. It seems that children love to read about children who break the rules. Alexander was delighted with Brigid`s ensuing adventures with colour - especially when she colours her sleeping father, too. Tim Wynne-Jones`s latest book, Zoom Upstream (Groundwood/Douglas & McIntyre, 36 pages, $14.95 cloth), is the third adventure of Zoom the cat, who appeared earlier in Zoom at Sea and Zoom Away. This time Zoom has gone to help his friend Maria prepare her garden for the winter, but in true cat fashion, he ends up napping in the warm sun. When he awakens, he finds a scribbled note from Maria; she has gone off to find the captain, Uncle Roy. Zoom follows her muddy footprints into the library where he climbs into the bookshelf and finds a staircase made of books. Down the staircase he goes, only to find himself on a levee by a dark river, and so the adventure begins. Zoom is transported to an ancient Egyptian catacomb; in come cats in funny hats carrying a mummy on a litter. But it`s no mummy - it`s Maria. Together they must find Uncle Roy and the Catship. This is a captivating tale, with Eric Beddows`s meticulous black-and-white illustrations enhancing the mysterious allure of ancient Egypt. However, without the knowledge of the history of Zoom, Maria, Uncle Roy, and the Catship, the book would be less satisfying and possibly confusing to readers encountering Zoom for the first time. Aska`s Birds (Doubleday, 32 pages, $18 cloth) is a collection of paintings by Warabe Aska and poetry by David Day. Aska`s paintings are truly stunning for readers of any age. A peacock`s transparent white feathers rise up into a fountain against a lush, blue-green rain forest. Menacing black crows fill the branches of a leafless black tree against an ominous brown and yellow sky. White and golden swans frolic gracefully with naked, golden, smiling babies, some of whom have sprouted wings and taken flight. Day`s poetry, however, proved to be less captivating. The idea of the book is to imagine what jobs different birds would do if they were people. The penguins are headwaiters, the flamingos are painters of the sky, the crows are detectives, the swans are nursemaids, and the eagle is the bogeyman of the bird kingdom. A wonderful idea, but I found Day`s arrythmic poetry difficult to read aloud naturally enough so that Alexander would not either lose interest or laugh at me. Although he admired the paintings, he has not since picked up the book on his own. Aska`s Birds is basically a coffee-table book for kids, lusciously illustrated, but perhaps not meaty enough for repeat readings.

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