This Land:
A Cross-Country Anthology of Canadian Fiction for Young Readers

320 pages,
ISBN: 0670878960

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Children`s Books
by Julie Glazer

Kit Pearson's This Land, an outstanding new anthology of stories by Canadian children's authors linked thematically through landscape, exceeds expectations. As a young child I hated anthologies. Often the source was unnamed and impossible to find; I was left frustrated and dissatisfied. Happily this is not the case here. Brief biographies of the authors, as well as the sources of all the excerpts, are included at the end.

To a young reader, Canada's vastness and diversity must be incomprehensible. How better to come to some understanding of the country's complexity than through stories? For many of us, our first knowledge of the Canadian landscape came through the works of our painters: Lawren Harris, Tom Thomson, Emily Carr, and others. But our understanding of the people who inhabit that landscape came through the early novels we read: those of L. M. Montgomery, Farley Mowat, James Houston-all authors whose works are included in this anthology. In stories, distance dissolves as landscape begins to evolve in our imaginations and the people who inhabit that landscape become known to us.

In her perceptive introduction, Kit Pearson states that in fiction, setting plays a much lesser role than character and story. But she contradicts herself when she states that place is another character in a story. I agree more with this second statement and Pearson's selections prove the point. What would Budge Wilson's story "Dreams" have been without its setting of a small fishing village on the south shore of Nova Scotia? What would Celia Lottridge's prairie novel Ticket to Curlew have been without the "great tilting circle with an arching blue sky overhead"? Or would Janet McNaughton in To Dance at the Palais Royale have had the same story without the Toronto harbour that "shimmered blue and cool between the island and the hot city"? Above all, place often defines who we are. This can't be said better than by James Houston in the last selection here. His character Tikta'liktak has just returned from being marooned on an ice floe. "In Tikta'liktak's mind's eye there arose a shining vision of his island home. Sakkiak now seemed to him a warm and friendly place, for it had become a part of his life, a part of himself."

But there is history as well as geography in Pearson's book. Paul Yee's story, "Spirits of the Railway", tells of the plight of the Chinese who worked on the railroad; Shirley Sterling's My Name is Seepeetza is about a Native child dealing with life in a residential school; Joan Clark's The Dream Carvers tells of the early history of Newfoundland. The selections begin on the West Coast, are divided by province, and travel east across the country, spanning mountains and prairies and sea, chronicling urban and rural life. Most of the stories are excerpts from well-known novels; a few are short stories. There is variety of genre: humour, romance, fantasy, legend, realism, adventure, and historical fiction.

The strength of this anthology lies in the quality of the writing. Pearson has obviously thought very carefully about her choices. She has chosen our finest children's authors and most of the selections are from these authors' best work. There is a chapter from Kevin Major's great novel Hold Fast; from Brian Doyle's Angel Square; from Janet Lunn's Shadow in Hawthorne Bay. How lucky we are in Canada to have so many fine children's authors. My only reservation is that I wish that some poetry had been included-perhaps Meguido Zola's "Canadian Indian Place Names", Ian Young's "Fear of the Landscape", bill bissett's "dream of northern skies", Dennis Lee's "Bundle-buggy Boogie". Not only would that allow for variety of form, but the design of the book would be more varied and perhaps make it less intimidating to young eyes. Illustrations throughout the text might also have made it less intimidating. The cover is attractive, however, and I like the section headings illustrated with the boundaries of the provincial.

I believe, as Pearson hopes, that children who read these excerpts will seek out the novels from which they are taken. This is an important book and I hope that not only parents and grandparents will buy it, but that it will soon appear in a trade edition so that teachers can use it in their classrooms. Not just to read aloud, but also as a tool for teaching the patterns of landscape and history that both unite and divide our great country. 

Julie Glazier is English ESL Curriculum Advisor, Toronto District School Board. She unashamedly enjoys children's and teenagers' books, and not only because they are useful in her job.


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