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Of Tropical Jungles And Runaway Soap
by Linda Granfield

AFTER THE wrapping paper has been shredded and the Christmas dinner eaten there's little more satisfying for a child than settling down away from the chaos with a brandnew, probably inscribed book that smells deliciously new, and one of the most enjoyable shopping expeditions of the book? lover's year is the excursion to select these Christmas gifts. This season's offerings are substantial enough to leave plenty to savour long after the tinsel decorations have been packed away.

The Wildlife A B C by Jan Thornhill (Greey de Pencier, 32 pages, $16.95) is a wonderful introduction to the alphabet and to Canadian wildlife. Each page of this well?designed, over?sized book depicts one animal and one letter. Each creature, in turn, is framed by a vivid border that incorporates the animal once again. "C," for example, is for Caterpillar and the border depicts the metamorphosis of a butterfly. The "Nature Notes" included at the back of the book further illuminate the subjects.

Animals of every sort are available in children's picture books this season. Phoebe Gilman, an author and illustrator, knows she's got a great thing going with "Jillian, Jillian, Jillian Jiggs, It looks like your room has been lived in by pigs!" ?? a couplet familiar to the thousands of Canadian schoolchildren she visits each year. In The Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs (North Winds Press, 36 pages, $13.95), Gilman continues the adventures of young Jillian. This time, she actually does share her room with pigs. A jar full of buttons Jillian finds when she is cleaning her room inspires her to create zillions of stuffed pigs, each with its own personality. The couplet becomes "Jillian, Jillian, Jillian Jiggs, Maker of wonderful, marvelous pigs!" No one can resist her toy pigs and Jillian stands to make lots of money if she sells them ?? but can the creator part with her creations? Jillian resolves her dilemma, and on the last page of the book, readers will find easy, illustrated instructions (including sewing basics) for making their own pigs.

Pigs again, this time down on a farm, figure in Stephane Poulin's latest tale of the mischievous cat, Josephine, in Could You Stop Josephine? (Tundra, 24 pages, $12.95). Daniel and Josephine share a birthday and go to celebrate the occasion at his uncle's farm. Tricky Josephine sneaks into the car and once at the farm leads Daniel on a merry chase through the farmyard and beyond. Poulin's illustrations are richly textured and filled with a farm's golds and greens. Pictures and text balance one another effectively. The black?and?white illustrations, which appear on nearly every other page, are particularly fine, lush drawings that make one hope Poulin will one day illustrate a book in just black and white.

The parents of junior school children will relive their childhood when they read My Family Vacation, written and illustrated by Dayal Kaur Khalsa (Tundra, 24 pages, $14.95 cloth). Young May and her obnoxious older brother Richie are about to go on their first family vacation ?to Florida. The long car trip has everything: back?seat fights, the "I'm bored" syndrome, and the breakdown at the side of the road, in the rain, of course. But this is not just the story of a family's winter escape from the snow. It is also the tale of May's love?hate relationship with Richie. Crisply written and to the point, it's both a travelogue and a story.

The illustrations, like all Khalsa's drawings, are vibrant. Here is the Florida of the 1950s ?? and some may argue it hasn't changed all that much! May passes Texaco stations, eats under HoJo's orange roof, plays skeeball and avoids the social director at the hotel. Every page is filled with '50s furniture, prices and memories.

In Simon and the Snowflakes, (Tundra, 24 pages, $9.95 cloth) snow is a wonderful backdrop for the musings of a small child. Written and illustrated by Gilles Tibo, the story is told in very few lines and is suitable for the pre?schooler who is learning to observe and count. The story is both puzzling and enchanting. Simon wants to count everything. When the first snow falls, he decides he will count the flakes. But how can he ever count them all, he wonders? His solutions are amusing, although young readers may wonder why this boy and his friends are out alone at night.

The pictures are bursting with items to count: Christmas presents, animals, decorations, friends. Tibo's airbrush technique and lighting effects are inviting and evocative for the small reader and parent alike.

Richard Thompson continues his Jesse Adventure series with I Have to See This (Annick, 24 pages, $12.95 cloth). "On a starry evening in the middle of winter, Jesse and her dad went for a walk." From the simplicity of this observation, Thompson and Dad carry Jesse through a marvellous series of revelations about the Man in the Moon and his family. While some of the scenes are a bit farfetched (Dad climbs a lamp?post and a police officer arrives), Jesse and her dad are characters who offer children some cuddly examples of happy home life. Eugenie Fernandes's pastel illustrations reinforce the comfortable easiness of Jesse's imagination. Prancing piglets, flying insects, and shooting stars fill each page with amusing and satisfying action for the young observer.

Seal is Lost by Priscilla Galloway (Annick, 32 pages, $12.95) is a dismal animal?human picture book. Hugh's stuffed?toy companion, Seal, has been misplaced and Hugh is grieving. He's told that Seal is happy in Lost Toyland, playing with the other lost toys. A live pet, the kitten Ginger, is brought in as a replacement; but Hugh and his family continue the search. Meanwhile, Seal is enjoying pizza with anchovies in Lost Toyland, a place where other toys do not make sexist statements. The book is confusing: it is unclear whether it is just about lost toys or the ultimate separation, death. Has anything really been explained to Hugh? Karen Patkau's collage illustrations are colourfully rendered but sometimes add to the confusion. Too much text, too little plain talk about the subject, whatever it is.

Pre?schoolers will enjoy Roger Pare's Circus Days (Annick, 24 pages, $12.95, translated by David Homel). The illustrations are crammed with animal performers and audiences. The circus parade includes both realistically drawn and fantastic animals (such as pink?striped cats) and captures the motion and magic of the Big Top. 'Me portrayal of families cuddling in the audience will comfort the youngest readers. The metre of the poem, however, breaks down. At the beginning of the text the rhyming is fairly consistent, but the pattern is broken: it is awkward to read "laugh" and "above" as rhyming words. Still, the colourful antics of the performers more than compensate for the momentary lapse.

Tom Harpur, who is the religion columnist for the Toronto Star, has written his first children's book, The Mouse That Couldn't Squeak (Oxford University Press, 24 pages, $13.95). Rusty is a mouse with a handicap. As Christmas approaches, he finds himself alone, ostracized by the other mice because he can't squeak. When owls threaten the other mice, who are easily detected by their squeaks, it is Rusty who risks his life to fetch food to feed the mice for the winter. Good intentions abound in this book but the result falls short of the mark: the story?telling is undistinguished, there is far too much text for so few pages, and the print in some places nearly disappears in the dark illustrations.

The antics of a bar of strawberry soap, not animals, are the subject of Jo Ellen Bogart's Malcolm's Runaway Soap (North Winds Press, 32 pages, $14.95). "It all started with Malcolm's bath." A very dirty boy climbs into the bathtub one afternoon and a squishy bar of soap pops out of his hand. So begins a wild chase through town. Readers know this really couldn't happen, but Bogart manages to keep the soap believably wet and in motion. Malcolm, clothed in a blue terry towel (good thing it's summer!) is followed by a growing audience of "people in your neighbourhood." Linda Hendry's illustrations are vivid ?? and non?sexist: the letter?carrier and housepainter are women, and fathers mind babies. The tall tale's rascally soap is finally subdued in a public fountain and Malcolm, squeaky clean by now, is taken home in style. What an entertaining exaggeration!

The splendid colour photographs in What's It? (Greey de Pencier, 32 pages, $6.95) are another form of exaggeration. 'Me editors of Owl magazine have compiled "an eye?dentification puzzle book" that tests the readers' powers of observation. Gadgets, objects, machines, and other items encountered on a daily basis are shown in part, and in extreme closeup. For instance, a portion of a telephone receiver is shown and the word clue "long distance hearing aid" is also given. While the telephone may be an. easy guess, the photo selections present items and clues of varying levels of difficulty. Adults will be astounded at how many items they cannot identify and their children can! "What's It?" has been a regular feature of Owl magazine, and the book, like the magazine, includes the answers for each photograph, and under the heading "Did You Know?" interesting information about some of the items.

Other recent non?fiction titles offer a wealth of information spiced with humour and a keen understanding of the child's curiosity. Terence Dickinson has produced a companion text for Exploring the Night Sky (1987). Ibis time, clouds, snowstorms, hurricanes, and tornadoes are discussed in Exploring the Sky by Day (Camden House, 72 pages, $9.95). Dickinson presents complex subjects in easily understood language, yet never talks down to his reader. Design is a large part of the book's success. Page layouts, colours, and drawings (by John Bianchi) are all inviting.

Exploration is the subject of the latest in Owl's journey Series. Adrian Forsyth, a biologist and the author of award?winning natural history books for adults, has produced his first title for children, Journey Through A Tropical Jungle (Greey de Pencier, 80 pages, $12.95). Forsyth spends each winter at the Monteverde Reserve in Costa Rica, where he conducts biological studies and writes. His concern about the destruction of the world's rain forests, which are rapidly disappearing as development moves into the areas, is apparent in the book. Forsyth takes his reader on a trip through the jungles of Central America from the mountains of the Pacific to the rain forests of the Atlantic seaboard. 'Me richness of natural life in the jungle is overwhelming. Forsyth stresses the interdependence of the species of animals, insects, and plants: extinction is a real danger in the rain forest. There is a staggering amount of information in the book, yet the narrative is fast?paced and pleasantly honest; Forsyth lets his young readers know that he too can be frightened in the darkness of the jungle night.

The pronunciation of difficult names is given, as are maps. One wishes, however, that every photo had a caption to facilitate the matching of text and picture. Adrian Forsyth has provided his armchair adventurers with a view of a disappearing beauty. It is hoped that when they are older these readers can prevent its destruction.

Cyril and Maggie, Ted Staunton's dynamic duo, are back in Mushmouth and the Marvel (Kids Can Press, 92 pages, $4.95), the latest in his series of amusing, no?nonsense novels for the preadolescent reader. Maggie's move has made her the Maple Street Marvel; Cyril has become the Greenapple Street Genius. But it's not easy keeping the title of 11 genius." People expect you to do things and do them well. When the class is trying out for a spot on a television show, Cyril finds that it's hard to be taken seriously with a pencil eraser stuffed in your nose. And what's he to do about Monica and spin?the?bottle? Meanwhile, Maggie has to suffer a bully who threatens to tear down her old tree?house. Staunton's strength lies in his ability to present child?heroes with problems they can solve without superhuman aids or precocious, uncharacteristic behaviour. They don't take on any more than a child can handle: their problems are the daily, real problems of kids their age. Love, yuck! Embarrassment is to be avoided at all costs. As long as Staunton keeps Maggie, Cyril and the gang plain old kids who wisecrack "Bald Potatoes!", shovel snow to earn money, and gush about L?O?V?E he'll have receptive readers who can see themselves on every page and laugh.

Fourteen?year?old Hubbo O'Driscoll's story in Easy Avenue by Brian Doyle (Groundwood, 118 pages, $12.95) reveals a more poignant humour. Even if you can stand on your hands, as Hubbo can, life is far from perfect. Poverty is a reality, not a romantic notion, for his family. The author's evocation of postWorld?War?II Ottawa provides a colourful backdrop for the drama of an adolescent who tries to better himself by earning extra money, and yet doesn't want to be like some of his fellow students who come from wealthier homes. Hubbo and the reader come to more than one realization before the end of the novel.

Doyle writes a tight narrative with wit and verve. He includes a list of characters, which imparts a Victorian flavour, at the end (why not the beginning?) of the book. Indeed, some of Doyle's characters are quite Dickensian: Miss CollarCuff is a Miss Haversham clone and the family of Dorises ranging in age from infant Doris to great?great?great?grandmother Doris is hilarious. 'Me zaniness is a welcome relief from the struggles elsewhere in Hubbo's life.

There's no need to "sell" an Anne enthusiast on yet another book about the lovable orphan and her author. Plenty of adult readers will find Akin to Anne: Tales of Other Orphans (McClelland & Stewart, 256 pages, $16.95 cloth) a pleasant read. Scholarly writer Rea Wilmshurst discovered scrapbooks of Lucy Maud Montgomery's short stories at the author's birthplace and has selected a number of them for this volume. 'Me orphans are not all children, but all display a marked similarity to the Anne model.

The stories are suitable for the advanced child reader who doesn't need illustrations. The length of the stories will be a relief to the child who loved Anne on television but was overwhelmed by the actual novel's length. It's a book that can be dipped into every so often and savoured for its style.

The Windmill Turning (University of Alberta Press, 139 pages, $24.95) is another overlooked title from earlier this year. More than 100,000 Western Canadian Mennonites have a rich heritage to share with children and the author, Victor Carl Friesen, presents a wonderful collection of nursery rhymes, maxims, songs, and folklore. The Mennonites' life in the Prairie wilderness and its harsh conditions are reflected in their literature.

The first half of the book, illustrated with photographs, is too difficult for a child reader, but could be whittled down effectively by the adult partner. The second half of the book is printed in plautdietsch, the Low German spoken by Mennonites, and in English. Directions are given for the finger plays and action rhymes, making this a refreshing change from the usual playroom fare. Black?and?white sketches illustrate the games.

Tundra Books has brought out a beautiful limited edition art book, To My Father's Village (56 pages, $39.95 cloth). In 1977 the Canadian artist William Kurelek went back to his father's village in the Ukraine and captured on paper the people, animals, and way of life there. He died shortly after returning to

Toronto. This book is a well?designed compendium of his sketches, coloured drawings, and excerpts from his letters to his wife during an earlier trip to the village. There is too much text for even the advanced reader to absorb in one sitting, but the information and the emotion to be gleaned from the book have a fascination all their own.

And finally, three titles that capture the season's spirit of renewal and joy.

The Canadian Children's Treasury (Key Porter Books, 294 pages, $29.95) is very much a book to be shared in the classroom or in the home. Janet Lunn and the contributing editors have organized the contents by category, but the book's design invites readers to dip in and select any story or poem. Classic tales by Ernest Thompson Seton and Charles G. D. Roberts appear with contemporary poetry and fiction by such writers as sean o'huigin and Monica Hughes, and Native folklore with tales of today. Social commentaries are presented with as much panache as nonsense verse. For readers who may be unfamiliar with the authors there is a biographical section at the back of the book. (Perhaps the illustrators could have been profiled as well.) This is a handsome volume, with 140 full?colour illustrations that reflect the spirit of the stories and poems.

One of the most talked?about titles this season is Night Cars by Teddy Jam (Groundwood, 32 pages, $13.95). And it's worth talking about, for a number of reasons. Jam (a pseudonym) has produced a wonderful, if uneven, poem about a toddler who cannot sleep. Father and child spend the night observing the street life outside their city apartment. It's language a reader can wrap his tongue around, feeling the lush syllables, relishing the pauses needed to finish a word or phrase: "slow snow falling deep". . ."white night white dog/Snow plow making/White snow logs." As a read?aloud book for a toddler Night Cars provides an introduction to the enchantments of language. For the young reader, the book offers a simple but rewarding text.

'Me illustrations, Eric Beddows's first works in colour for a children's book, are another source of excitement. Beddows focuses on the change of activity and light on the streetscape as dawn approaches. Snow is removed from the street, fire engines clang fiercely, garbage is collected and Baby marvels. The buildings could be the main street of any number of towns in North America (Beddows's Stratford, Ontario, for instance). The architecture is as unchanged as Baby's sleepless state. The storefronts stretch across the pages, providing a rich?hued mural filled with detail, everything from '50s' television sets to wrestling posters. The style and textures of the illustrations recall children's?book illustrations of the '40s, here given a graphite overcoat. Beddows nearly, but not quite, overpowers Jam's poem. There will be a lot more talk about this book when it wins an illustration award.

What better way to go out book?browsing for holiday treats than with a song on one's lips? Maryann Kovalski provides the perfect winter song in Jingle Bells (Kids Can Press, 32 pages, $10.95), an adaptation of the well?known song. Jenny, Joanna, and Grandma, whose escapades were first recounted in Kovalski's The Wheels on the Bus (Kids Can Press, 1987) take a trip to New York City at Christmastime. First there's the plane trip, then the hotel and the obligatory ride through snowy Central Park in an open carriage. It doesn't take too much imagination to pretend that the carriage is a sleigh. Kovalski captures the muffled sound of a city under a blanket of snow; in fact, the trio could just as well be in the country. 'Me music and lyrics for the song are given and the joy of the carriage ride is infectious. As ever, Grandma and the girls find themselves in chaos from which they can craftily escape. Like the holiday season, Jingle Bells is full of colour, noise, and good cheer. And, like Grandma, all we need afterwards is a good night's sleep!


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