Like a character actor changing her role completely from one performance to the next, Julie Lawson shows a new face in every book. Only her love of language and the outdoors remain constant. Her picture-books include the meditative My Grandfather Loved the Stars
(Beach Holme, 1992), the bold and hopeful Chinese folktale, Too Many Suns
(Stoddart, 1996), and now the rollicking Whatever You Do, Don't Go Near That Canoe!
Such variety dictates a different illustrator for every book, and Lawson has been paired with some of the best; her collaboration with Paul Morin on the award-winning The Dragon's Pearl
(Oxford, 1992) comes to mind. This time around, Werner Zimmermann's comic sensibility is a felicitous match for Lawson's story.
In subject and metre, Whatever You Do, Don't Go Near That Canoe! suggests a mock-epic poem: a scary-funny campfire version of "The Cremation of Sam McGee". The three stalwarts (a young girl narrator, her toy kangaroo, and her little brother) set out in Captain McKee's off-limits canoe and paddle into a nocturnal pirate adventure. The pirate company clusters round, uttering threats such as "Let's splinter their giddles and twickle their toes,/ For taking the Captain's canoe." By the time the pirates are dancing wildly around a bonfire, promising a big roast, our heroes are pretty nervous. Luckily it's only the wieners and marshmallows that feel the heat, and they all indulge in a pirate feast, complete with ginger beer. The transition from prisoners to guests is a little weak, but young readers and listeners will probably be too transfixed by the action to notice. Home again, the Captain is thrilled that the children have taken the canoe-his special invention-for such a successful test run. Then he expressly forbids them to set foot in his twin-engined sleigh. The book ends as they set off for their next magical adventure.a predictable, but satisfying, conclusion.
Zimmermann sets the mood with a midnight palette of deep blues, greens, and purples, lit by a pleasantly lurid yellow. He has a loose, cartoon style somewhat reminiscent of Michael Martchenko's work on the Robert Munsch books. He adds all sorts of wonderful details to extend the text: a pirate tucked into a treasure chest, enjoying his meal; the girl feeding a hot dog to her toy kangaroo; and a pirate captain who looks suspiciously like the clean-shaven Captain McKee wearing a Santa Claus beard. In Zimmermann's delightful illustrations for Farmer Joe's Hot Day (1987) and Farmer Joe Goes to the City (1990), by Nancy Wilcox Richards (both North Winds Press), the emphasis was more on design; here it's on drama. All of the pictures are double-page spreads.
Pirate stories are perennial favourites with children. The rhythm and word-play of Lawson's text plus the amusing details of Zimmermann's pictures should make this one a winner with read- aloud adults as well as children aged four to eight.
Annette Goldsmith is a Toronto children's librarian and reviewer