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Letters to the Editor

Kidlit Queries

CHILDREN'S book authors and illustrators are professionals. While the work they create may seem simple, these creators spend years working on books before they can be published. These efforts have paid fruit. Canada's authors and illustrators for children are nationally and internationally acclaimed.

Why then has Books in Canada decided that children's books must be reviewed by non-professionals, whose primary review technique seems to be canvassing their children for their opinion? This is the equivalent of asking adult book reviewers to make sure they consult their neighbour and include his or her views in a review of the latest Canadian novel or political work.

Professional reviewers in the children's-book world know what is being done by a wide range of authors and illustrators. They know the history of children's books and of the work of the creator being reviewed. They can place these books in a context and offer educated and thoughtful assessments. Isn't this what Books in Canada tries to offer in adult book reviews? Why should children's books be shunted off into a sort of "kiddie" corner, as though they don't matter?

Children like some books and dislike others. Because children's books are written, published, and purchased by adults, only time can tell which books will endure and which many children will love and be marked by. As adults the best we can do is to produce the best-quality books possible. What is required from reviewers is a high and educated standard that respects the work, its creator, and its ultimate audience.

Patricia Aldana

Groundwood Books



Editors' Note: Books in Canada instituted its current children's-book reviewing policy precisely because we were dissatisfied with what the "professionals" in the field were producing. Those who purchase children's books - parents don't, for the most part, give two hoots about the historical background of the book in question. What they want, and what they have told us they appreciate in Books in Canada's approach, are incisive, well-written reviews that take children's reactions into account, and this is what we have tried to provide. Like the administrators of the prestigious Ruth Schwartz award, who have made children an integral part of their judging system, we believe that children have valuable insights to contribute to the process of book selection.

Those who prefer more traditional, is-it-good-for-them? Reviewing are well served in the pages of Quill & Quire. Books in Canada will continue to feature real children, real parents, and realistic assessments in its children's-book reviews.

Errors Count

IF M. SCHWARZ and Stan Persaud take issue with the subjective criticisms I made in my review of Cyril Dabydeen's Jogging in Havana ("Typomania," Letters, September), I accept their opinions without comment.

If, however, they attack my credibility as a reviewer by accusing me of misrepresenting facts, then I must respond. I am charged with using "wild exaggerations" and prizewinning "hyperbole" in describing the book's textual errors. In fact, in the first five stories alone there are no less than 18 misspellings, 15 lines that begin with hyphens, and numerous omissions of spaces and punctuation marks. My review, therefore, was entirely accurate in stating that there are "dozens" of errors in the book.

I am well aware that these are editorial blunders and I did not suggest that Dabydeen is responsible for them, nor did I attack any of his work other than the stories collected in Jogging in Havana. If the letter writers found the book so compelling that they were willing to overlook these flaws, that is their prerogative. It is my prerogative to disagree, as I did in the review.

Dan Bortolotti


Writers' Challenge

ALL RIGHT! Who is tugging their forelocks here? I have just returned from a voluntary exile. And on my holiday I brought the summer issue of Books in Canada. And whose voice echoed on my journey? Barry Callaghan's!

Clearly, in his interview with Roger Burford Mason, a challenge is made to the modern Canadian writer, so ... I will respond.

"Here I stand. My language is the language of this place." I am not a nationalist, "mooning the world." Nor is Toronto my Paris. Certainly it is an integral part of my journey. As is my writing.

I have recently graduated from York University as an English major/history minor. Thank God life has given me a playful streak, too. For when you ask who is hiding, or harbouring, the language of the new voices that need to emerge, I will answer in the manner in which I am constantly questioned. "English degree? Ha! Now, tell me how you plan to earn a living?" But that is too simple an answer.

Writing is an impassioned exile, at its very best. It is rarely a pay-cheque. Rarely a publication, or a readership. Rarely a vote of confidence. And so all too often, it is rarely a discipline. Other choices are made. Writing loses life. Loses the necessary passion.

Immersing myself in the literature of my country of choice, Canada, has given me a stronger sense of self ... a sense of place. Reading and listening to the historical and present-day voices of Canada's first people, studying explorers' journals, the historical geographies of maps, women's diaries, primary documents, collecting letters to editors in newspapers, journals, periodicals, overheard conversations in pubs, on street corners and in university corridors and classrooms, "...writing about Canadian experience in a Canadian language." We just have to recognize it. Not only defined by ethnicity, but also by gender and position within the boundaries of our society. Defined by history and the present. Who is listening?

We have to recognize the many layers of our new society, as they exist and have existed, rather than searching for the insular voice. Recognize and read them! Write them! We have only to listen and to grab poetic license in the interpretation of our experience. We only have to listen because "the dogs are fucking down the back alleys," as they always have. It really isn't so difficult to call a spade a spade. Or, to stop tugging our forelocks. We will always have keepers of the magic. We just have to believe in the stuff!

Marjorie Seitz


Special Bonds

I ENJOYED R. M. Vaughan's interview with David Adams Richards in the September issue. However, I should raise a couple of "points of information" for both writers. First, if Vaughan would like a better understanding of the "somewhat odd premise" that Canada and Australia "have a special bond in their literatures," he could start with Tradition in Exile (University of Toronto Press, 1962), John F. Matthews's classic comparative study of the development of their respective poetries. Secondly, I would corroborate Richards's suggestion that "there are definite parallels" between the writers of the Maritimes and the American South. Not only do both regions share "a rural sensibility and a Celtic tradition, they are also, of course, home to significant and historic African-American communities. In fact, striking comparisons could be drawn between the work of the African-American novelist Richard Wright and that of Richards himself.

George Elliott Clarke


History Will Judge

IN "The Big (Brother) Chill" (September) I Michael Coren misses the point. If, with "The Valour and the Horror," the McKennas had admittedly produced fiction, they would be entitled to say anything they wanted and I would defend their right to artistic freedom, no matter how distasteful their content. However, the McKennas profess to be historians and as such must be prepared to accept the consequences of their actions and be judged as historians. In this they fail, for they have proved with their production that they are revisionist historians cut from the same cloth as David Irving and Ernst Zundel and are perpetuating the same misunderstandings. They deserve everything they get. Michael Coren should realize that if these revisionists have their way, we will eventually forget that which we must remember.

David Skene-Melvin


Letters may be edited for length or to delete potentially libellous statements. Except in extraordinary circumstances, letters of more than 500 words will not be accepted for publication.


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