November Boots

by Nancy Hundal, Marilyn Mets (Illustrator)
24 pages,
ISBN: 0002238934

Why Can't You Fold Your Pants Like DavidLevine?

by Frieda Wishinsky, Snider Jackie (Illustrator), Jackie Snider (Illustrator)
62 pages,
ISBN: 0002239949

Annabel the Detective: The Case of theBirthday Surprise

by Dorothy J. Harris
32 pages,
ISBN: 0006474179

The Missing Sun

by Peter Eyvindson
48 pages,
ISBN: 0921827296

The Always Prayer Shawl

by Sheldon Oberman
32 pages,
ISBN: 1878093223

Mae's Night Flight

by Fran B. Innes
32 pages,
ISBN: 1895387299

Post Your Opinion
Matters Meteorological
by Anne Denoon

ONCE UPON a time, I used toexperience a ... well, childish feeling of pleasurable anticipation on the rareoccasions when Books in Canada sawfit to send me a package of children`s books for review. Although it`s probablyhighly impolitic to admit this, I even found writing about kids` books --dare I say it? -- fun for a change. Now, however, as a faithfulreader of the letters page of this publication, I find myself tearing open themailing bag with a sense of trepidation, haunted by the fear that I may not beadequately qualified and ... well, professional enough for the task. But no -- upon reflection, Ibelieve I shall rest defiantly upon my credentials as a certified former child(who was lucky enough to be exposed to much of the juvenile canon), apractising parent (who for the past seven years has once again been a daily,front-line, hands-on consumer of children`s literature), a life-longconstant reader, and an inter From Mae`s Night Flight mittent writer. And,further, I bridle at thesuggestion that 1, and the many other contributors to this department, embodythe supposedly uninformed sensibility of the "man on the street" --make that person, please. And I don`t believe that we, as a group, approachchildren`s books with less respect or conscientiousness than those intended foradults. In fact, I`d almost go so far as to say such a sweeping generalizationis in itself rather condescending and, well, unprofessional. Several of this month`s crop of picture-books,which your reviewer received in the unprecedented chill of February, share anunderstandable preoccupation with matters meteorological. In The Missing Sun(Pemmican, 48 pages, $9.95 paper), by Peter Eyvindson, a young girl moves tothe Far North and experiences for the first time the sun`s winterdisappearance. Emily is equally sceptical of her meteorologist mother`sscientific explanation, and of the mythological interpretation of her Inuitfriend, Josie, but young readers, especially those who have not previouslyknown of this phenomenon, will probably find both theories of interest.Eyvindson conveys the strangeness of the daytime darkness in a matter-of-factmanner, describing, for example, the novelty of Christmas lights that bum allday long. Rhian Brynjolson`s rather naive, pale-hued watercolours providea cool, subdued, and slightly static accompaniment to this winter tale. Nancy Hundal`s November Boots(HarperCollins, 24 pages, $16.95 cloth) is similar in tone. However, itsprotagonist is waiting, not for the sun`s reappearance, but for rain to splashin. Hundal`s leisurely, meditative text is more consciously poetic thanEyvindson`s: dead leaves are "yellow, crimson and surprised green"and a drop of water "flees into the ground, cowering." Marilyn Mets`smuted, dreamy illustrations, also in watercolour, are skilful and assured. Asin her first book, I Heard My Mother Coll My Name (with illustrations by LauraFernandez), Hundal aims to create a world of meticulously heightened sensation,drawn from the child`s everyday surrounding,,. But despite the evident carethat went into its words and pictures, November Boots seemsto lack some essential spark of vitality and fails to match the almost hypnoticeffect of the earlier book. Perhaps it simply succeeds too well in conveyingits young protagonist`s feeling of lassitude. In her first children`s book, Mae`s Night Flight (Creative Publishers, 32 pages, $14.95 cloth), Fran Baird Innes not onlyups the meteorological ante with a raging storm, but sends her young heroineflying into it. Awakened by a crash of thunder, Mae is at first frightened, butsoon finds herself led on a whirlwind aerial tour of St. John`s, Newfoundland,by the belligerent but eventually friendly god Thor. Innes`s narrative, thoughpunctuated by intermittent boldface explosions of thunder and lightning, soarssmoothly, providing an inventive antidote to what is certainly a widespreadsource of anxiety among her intended audience. In passing, she also alludes toanother: the first day at school. Stanimir Stoilov`s highly decorativepictures, predominantly in shades of pink, mauve, golden-green, andmidnight blue, have an almost kinetic quality. His Thor is a whorl ofturbulence ending in a ravenlike beak, and he alternates sections of vibratingdetail with passages of wonderfully sloshy brushwork, most aptly for the rain-soddennight sky and the sea. Why Can`t You Fold Your Pants Like DavidLevine? (HarperCollins, 62 pages, $5.95 paper) also offers reassurance, but notfor any specific childhood fear. This book, by Frieda Wishinsky (a recentcontributor to this column, it should be noted), tells the story of a boy whofeels himself unappreciated at home and who, by running away, finds confirmationof his mother`s love. Though the theme probably goes all the way back to thestory of the prodigal son and beyond, it seems to be enjoying a resurgence incontemporary children`s literature, perhaps as a result oftoday`s much-talked-about stressed-out family, and thecurrent pedagogical preoccupation with juvenile "self-esteem."Why Can`t You... tackles the issuelightheartedly, with gentle wit and believable situations. As part of the"Ready Set Read" series designed for beginning readers, its languageis simple and straightforward, but Wishinsky keeps it natural and colloquial,and Jackie Snider`s zany, cartoonlike illustrations are a good match for thetext`s low-key humour. A more watchful editorial eye, however, might havecaught things like "Stanley stood in front of the Levine`s door" and(when our hero gets fed up in the past tense) "Stanley had enough."Where`s that other "had"? We don`t want those impressionable youngminds to slip into bad habits, after all. Annabel the Detective: The Case of theBirthday Surprise (HarperCollins, 3 2 pages, $4.95 paper), another volume inthe same early-reader series, is the third book featuring this juniorsleuth. It`s also a simple but intriguing tale, told in accessible language byDorothy Joan Harris, in which Annabel receives a puzzling birthday present fromher grandmother. She and a friend use deductive reasoning to follow a trail ofclues that ultimately pays off in a satisfying way. Amanda Duffy`s delicate andengaging pictures, including a repeating border on each page displaying thevarious objects that serve as clues, help to make this a visually appealinglittle book. Since treasure hunts appeal to most kids, young readers shouldenjoy participating vicariously in the search. But, parents, be prepared:they`ll probably insist on setting up one of their own immediately. Yet another new title in the same seriesfeatures the badger duo Goldsworthy and Mort. The two stories in MarciaVaughan`s Holiday Hijinks (HarperCollins, 63 pages, $5.95 paper), "ChristmasGift Catastrophe" and "On Vacation," both provide some quirkyfun. In the first, the two friends search in vain for the perfect Christmasgift for each other, and end up creating weird and wonderful ones --which eventually are put to good, if surprising, use. In the second story, thebored badger buddies set off on a round-the-world trip, withsuitable misadventures in each location, but finally come to realize that homehas its own appeal. Vaughan`s text has lots of gentle comedy and amusing wordplay,which are well matched, and sometimes expanded, by Linda Hendry`s colourful,detailed illustrations. When in Spain, for example, we`re told the boys"played guitars, danced the flamenco and met some bulls." Then, aftera picture showing the two dashing Pamplona-style down a cobbled street,the text continues: "`Run!` cried Mort. `Faster!` cried Goldsworthy." The Always Prayer Shawl (McClelland &Stewart, 32 pages, $19.99 cloth), by Sheldon Oberman, begins in a Russian shred early in this century, and ends in a sun-dappledsuburban synagogue somewhere in presentday North America. Oberman uses theshawl, repeatedly repaired and refashioned, as a symbol that fuses continuityand change, and as a concrete parallel to the Jewish custom of naming childrenfor their grandparents. Ted Lewin`s powerful and accomplished full-pageillustrations dominate -- both physically and aesthetically --the somewhat pedestrian text. In the first half of the book, dealing withAdam`s early life and his emigration from Russia to the new world, they are inmonochrome washes. The transition to full colour in the second half also marksAdam`s transformation from boy to man, from childhood to fatherhood and,eventually, grandfatherhood. Like NovemberBoots, thisis a high-quality production that somehow fails to satisfy. The processof simplifying and generalizing Adams experiences ultimately drains them ofmeaning, and the ancestral maxim handed down from grandfather to grandson,"Some things change, and some things don`t," seems rather a thindistillation of such a rich tradition.

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