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Children`s Books
by Lian Goodall

Sheree Fitch is a poet whose work is much loved by the children and adults of this country. Her There Were Monkeys in My Kitchen! won the Mr. Christie Book Award; Mabel Murple took the Anne Conner Brimer Award; and Toes In My Nose has a permanent place on my family's shelf of treasured books.

Now out in paperback, Fitch's If You Could Wear My Sneakers likewise deserves a special place on bookshelves across the country, and even around the world. The poems, written in several gay styles, all bounce and giggle right off the reader's tongue. Darcia Labrosse's attractive, colourful artwork and cartoon animal characters match Fitch's buoyancy.

The topic, however, is anything but light. And this is why the book deserves another look in its new edition. For it is about a very important issue-children's rights. All children should be aware of the articles tabled by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. But how to broach this hefty topic with youngsters of ages five to ten? Fitch, of course, uses poems-wacky and wonderful poems-as a tool for exploring their needs.

Peter Gzowski was not making an overstatement when he wrote in the foreword that Fitch can make "poems out of everything". As UNICEF Special Representative in the Atlantic Provinces, Nova Scotia resident Fitch seemed determined to create poems that definitely meant something, and these poems cover topics ranging from the "right to give your opinion" to "the right to be protected from war". The book is set up like a game: after reading the poems, children can have fun matching titles with the corresponding right.

Some of the poems can be more easily associated with a right than others. For example, "The Giraffe Who Could Not Laugh" and who needs help getting that laugh wiggled out, is clearly about the right to "the highest standard of health and medical care attainable". However, it's a little more difficult to untangle "If You Could Wear My Sneakers", which talks about exchanging footwear and identities. It's not a straight line between "if you were me and I were you for just a day" and the intended message that "all rights apply to all children without exception".

Young readers may not uncover the precise meaning on their own, but these poems serve well as beginning points for discussion. And everyone will have a rhythmically rollicking good time during the read. 

Lian Goodall is a freelance book reviewer with expertise in children's literature.


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