by Anne Denoon
control of her technique, there`s something cold and slightly repellent about these images; and certain passages, like the "smiling" faces looking out of the school bus, definitely enter the realm of the macabre. (I thought of James Ensor`s skeletons and masks.) It could be argued that the pictures merely reflect the book`s anxiety-ridden text, a joint effort by Ginette Lamont Clarke and Dr. Florence Stevens, which was written concurrently in separate French and English editions, and is intended for use in schools as a first reader in both languages. The story documents the escalating jitters experienced by a pair of twins, Mark and Melanie, on their first day of school, which induce them to pack up most of their belongings to take along. The "hilarious climax" advertised on the book`s back cover consists of the twins` chic but impassive mother being obliged to carry everything back into the house as the bus, at long last, pulls away. Needless to say, this development left me unamused; but I really can`t imagine it convulsing children, either, unless they have well-developed sadistic tendencies. Given the impeccable pedagogical credentials of its authors, What If the Bus Doesn`t Come? may well become the Dick and Jane of the neurotic `90s, but I don`t think it will become part of my family`s home library.
Uncle Henry`s Dinner Guests (Annick, 32 pages, $12.95 cloth, $4.95 paper), by Benedicte Froissart, adapted from the French by David Homel and with illustrations by Pierre Pratt, also features highstyle artwork and a bourgeois domestic setting, but it is a very different sort of book. Pratt`s drawings are zany and inventive; although his characters are pretty grotesque, they seem ideally suited to the strange goings-on at the dinner table when Uncle Henry comes to visit. In fact, I can`t imagine the spectacle of chicken motifs on a shirt coming to life and running all over the table being represented in any other way. Without indulging in repetitive hyperventilation, Froissart`s text ably expresses the anarchic impulses of children who have been ordered to behave themselves. There`s also a pleasant aura of ambiguity about Uncle Henry`s complicity in the children`s imaginings that makes them oddly plausible. I`d gladly sign up for at least a couple of dozen readings of this one.
Stories and Lies from My Childhood, the subtitle of My Mother`s Loves (Annick, 32 pages, $14.95 cloth, $5.95 paper), written and illustrated by Stephane Poulin, accurately suggests the blend of nostalgia and whimsy that characterizes this variation on the story of the old woman who lived in a shoe. Poulin`s famille nombreuse, headed by a spunky single mother, is depicted in various fantastical vignettes that culminate in Maman`s unexpected marriage to the garbage collector, after which the whole gang lives happily ever after. As my tolerance for whimsy is notoriously low, I found My Mother`s Loves resistable, feeling that it veers, in both text and pictures, over the edge of cuteness. It`s possible, though, that the book`s rather self-conscious charm may appeal to other parents and young readers.
Although there is also a certain cuteness quotient in Frank and Zelda (Kids Can, 32 pages, $13.95 cloth), written and illustrated by Maryann Kovalski, on the whole I found it quite appealing. Kovalski`s gentle, but lively and delicately coloured drawings aptly accompany her story, an adaptation of the fable of the fisherman`s wife. In this version, a couple who operate a pizzeria in the 1930s fall upon hard times and are saved from bankruptcy by a mysterious stranger, who grants their impetuous wishes with unexpected and unwelcome results. With its low-key humour, believable portrayal of human nature, and plot that actually has a beginning, a middle, and a happy ending, Frank and Zelda should make a pleasant addition to the bedtime bookshelf.
I imagine that most parents who read to their children have a special fondness for rhyming texts; they seem to slip enjoyably and easily off the fatigued tongue, for reasons that must go back to the first ballad intoned by some prehistoric bard. Animal Hours (Oxford, 32 pages, $14-95 cloth), written by Linda Manning and illustrated by Vlasta van Kampen, combines a comical series of rhymes with rollicking pictures that show what might happen if the animals in the zoo came to visit us at home, every hour on the hour. Van Karnpen`s animals are not overly domesticated, and her compositions capture the ensuing chaos very convincingly; so well, in fact, that I found the final few illustrations a bit confusing - perhaps they would work better as posters, seen from a distance. Children who are learning to tell time should enjoy finding all the clocks in each picture, as well as the general uproariousness of the proceedings.
After reading Mrs. Kitchen`s Cats (Annick, 42 pages, $8.95 cloth), a collection of poems by Ken Ward, I inadvertently left it out in plain sight. My four-year-old son, who can spot an unread picturebook a mile away, immediately demanded to know, given its small size and diminutive, black-and-white illustrations, whether it was a children`s book. As a modern parent who eschews dishonesty whenever possible, 1 had to allow that it was, and was thereupon commanded to read it aloud. Having thus violated my reviewer`s code, albeit under duress, 1 must report that we both enjoyed it immensely, and returned to it on subsequent days. Ward writes nonsense verse that isn`t really all that nonsensical, but is funny and surprising. Although my son had to be dissuaded from colouring in the drawings -which he evidently felt needed livening up - he listened avidly with an expression of mingled astonishment and delight, occasionally laughed out loud, and demanded instant replays of his favourites. Ward`s intermittent forays into concrete poetry and his quirky illustrations should also appeal to older children, although his piece about homelessness, " i am living in a box," seemed slightly out of place amid the zaniness. This book was a hit in our house, and should appeal to any child or parent with a fondness for imaginative wordplay.