Capturing Joy: The Story of Maud Lewis:
Illustrated by Mark Lang

by Jo-Ellen Bogart
ISBN: 0887765688

The Art Room:
Illustrated by Pascal Milelli

by Susan Vande Griek
ISBN: 0888994494

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Children's Books
by Deborah Wandell

Two important Canadian women artists make appearances in children's books this spring: Capturing Joy, the Story of Maud Lewis by Jo-Ellen Bogart, is a rather earnest biography, suitable for readers ages 7-11, but its generous collection of gorgeous full-page folk paintings by Lewis is a treasure for all ages. Working chronologically, Bogart describes important events and treasured moments in Maud Lewis's life, and places them in the different landscapes that Maud called home. The reader learns, for example, of Maud's day-long rides as a child in a fringe-topped horse and buggy, of her pleasure observing seaside life when she moved to Digby in her thirties, and of her sense of freedom riding with her husband in their Model T. To demonstrate how such experiences became the inspirational sources for Maud's art, Bogart matches her text about each special aspect of Maud's life with a painting in which Maud has captured just such an occasion or geography, and richly embellished it. This format is one of the strengths of the book, as it gives the reader Maud's world through her own joyous eyes.

In sharp contrast, Mark Lang's pencil/charcoal drawings of Maud's everyday life that accompany the text are subdued, shadowy and almost unfocused. They suggest that the difficult facts of Maud's life were like the bare bones of a sketch which she transformed and brought to vibrant life with her paints. The physical problems which twisted her spine and crippled her hands, making her the subject of cruel childish taunts, and preventing her from doing regular work¨none of this is represented in her art.

Pairing biographical detail and works of art on facing pages also serves, provocatively, to unsettle the plodding quality of a strict chronology: on one side, there is the story of a young girl who is seeing with the eyes of the artist she will become and storing up detail against that day: on the opposite page, the mature artist is represented by her work, in which she re-lives and re-works her youth. The decades collapse into each other. Unfortunately, this format ultimately weakens the book. After a number of connections are drawn between Maud's love of ŠX' and her paintings of the same, the point is taken, and the text becomes almost redundant. While Maud's paintings illuminate her life, the text simply re-presents the paintings and the life behind them, cataloging the obvious.

Much more interesting is Bogart's too-short exploration of the transformative aspects in Maud's work. She points out Maud's selective use of shadows and depth, and her playful, stylized re-visioning of nature, such as the blankets of flowers upon her spruce trees. In her observations about how Maud used representation without being strictly bound by it, Bogart provides a glimpse of the aesthetic priorities that shaped Maud's work and transformed the mundane into "captured joy". I only wished there were more of this exciting, clearly presented analysis.

In The Art Room, Miss Emily Carr exerts her very powerful presence, but the story belongs to the children she taught in Studio Room 6 in the early part of the 20th century in Victoria. It is told in the collective voice of her students, as they rekindle their memories of being small children set free in a world of sensory richness and barely ordered chaos. The text's exuberance perfectly matches the tumbling exuberance of such children and it pulses with the same physicality and swirling energy that informs Emily Carr's own work.

The story is bookended by the world occupied by the children's parents, depicted as a tidy, but static and barren space. By exciting contrast, Emily Carr's world bombards the children with all kinds of stimulation. Her colour-and-image-filled studio is packed with the untamed energy of her many pets, all of which have names and strong vocal chords. The children's out-of-doors painting forays focus on "the peculiar buildings, the hidden stables, the disappearing tracks" and the unpredictable, shifting world of nature, challenging the young artists to break free of the neatly-ordered, static image and find ways to see the unfamiliar and the fluid. They understand Miss Carr's goal is "getting us to make paint fly and paper come alive."

Miss Carr may dance and sing around the room, and laugh and talk about everything children find fascinating, but she also points out and rubs out, approves and demonstrates. There is a lovely summing up of all the ingredients that go into making art: "And nothing mattered/except seeing and being/and doing your all/with pencil/or brush/or charcoal." All this creative chaos is finally shaped into a kind of lively order by a good eye, a skilled hand, and a heart full of passion for the work.

This book, both its text and illustrations, is wonderfully successful in conveying unbridled enthusiasm and curiosity about the living, shifting world, and a delight in translating all of this appetite into a work of art. The illustrations have a golden overlay, the colour of warm reminiscence. For a primary level child, it is a wonderful introduction to the indomitable spirit that made Emily Carr a trail-blazing artist with a powerful and unique vision.

Deborah Wandell works at Another Story Bookshop in

Toronto, adores Maud Lewis, the violin and taking photographs.

In the last issue of Books in Canada, children's writers had an opportunity to talk about the books of their childhoods. In this months' issue, some of Canada's adult writers of poetry, literary criticism and fiction talk about the significant books in their young lives. It makes for fascinating reading and you'll note that though these writers have often gone in different directions than those featured in the Winter, 2001 issue, the books that made a significant impact on them are much the same. Kids' books obviously do bring comfort to writers as well as anyone who loves

books and reading.

Jeffrey Canton, Editor

My earliest memory of reading is hooked up with the comfort of pipe smoke. My funny and adorable father read to me, regularly, to our mutual delight. He loved reading aloud and he was a wonderful reader. His responsibilities as a thoracic surgeon and the superintendent of a rural TB sanatorium often weighed him down and having once had TB himself, he knew the value of taking a nap¨which always included a read. So propped up against pillows, crooked under Dad's arm, with the view of the lake in all seasons and weathers from my parents' bedroom window, I was read to. This was accompanied by pauses for rituals such as filling the pipe, tamping it, lighting it. When Dad stopped smoking, in the early fifties, I was sad¨even though he told the family that he felt better for it. He kept his pipes for a long time after, however, and so I'd pick them up and smell them whenever he was off somewhere, being responsible, and of course that would always lead to reading a book. Through the years Dad and I traveled down the Mississippi on a raft with Jim and Huck, cried when Moley and Ratty found the Mole's house on Christmas Eve, rejoiced in Eeyore's gloom, and generally revelled in the mysterious spirit of books. I cannot imagine a world without that singular physical and beautiful act of opening onto page one, and knowing that with each turning leaf you will be taken deeper inside a spell that will not lift for a very long time.

Martha Brooks, author,

Confessions of a Heartless Girl, 2002

Before I learned to read, before I discovered the private relationship of my imagination to human narrative, my father used to read aloud to me every night the stories and poems of Winnie-The-Pooh. He had well-wrought voices for every character in Hundred Acre Woods. His Eeyore was incomparable. O what a tortured barricaded soul! I can still recite quite a few Milne poems and stories, and when I do my father's voice is there, moving in memory below my recitation, his bass to my alto. If only you could hear us do together "King John Was Not A Good Man." The comfort I derive from these childhood favourites is the comfort bestowed when a father holds a daughter in his reassuring arms.

I was a big reader as a child, I am a big reader as an adult. I reread A. A. Milne often. Last night I read again "In Which Pooh Goes Visiting And Gets Into A Tight Place". I think that perhaps all my childhood favourites are favourites to this day because they conjure such strong memory, perhaps the strongest. It is food, I suppose: Soul food. My own narrative thread begins back there in those heady days of First Words. My father is there, as big as fathers get. I miss him.

Beth Follett, author, Tell It Slant

I couldn't put books down. I would come home from school and immediately go up to my room to read. I was reading before kindergarten and was not allowed to watch much TV, so the escape into different worlds seemed natural and easy. I'm recently being forced to constantly remember what books were extremely important to me because my five-year-old is having me read them to her and I'm falling in love with them all over again. Books like Alice in Wonderland, Charlotte's Web (it made me cry and still does),Winnie-the-Pooh, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Stuart Little, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, the Ramona books and The Wind in the Willows. What is amazing to me is watching my modern five-year-old being sucked into these worlds in a way that she just doesn't get sucked into the world of more recent books. There is something about the level in reader-trust those older writers had; they really thought young readers would understand them and so they didn't talk down to them. I too equate reading with eating. Both are delightful! A good book can make you as warm and satisfied as a nice bottle of wine accompanied by garlic-grilled shrimp. There is always the comfort of HOME associated with the childhood-books¨you remember reading in your room, your mother and father chatting quietly below, the smell of food drifting up the stairs, clean laundry on your bed¨HOME comes calling in lasagna, tacos, chocolate cake and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Michelle Berry, author and editor,

Blur and The Notebooks: Interviews and New Fiction from Contemporary Writers

They say that every reader has a psychological age that is different from his or her chronological age. My books would include The Phantom Tollbooth, the Narnia series, The Weirdstone of Brinsingaman, A Wrinkle in Time, the Earthsea books and the like. Even now, when I need a vacation from daily life, I enjoy kidlit, especially time-travel and fantasy stuff where children are empowered to fight evil; there are some I've discovered as an adult that I keep buying for other children, like Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series or Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. There is a comfort factor here, but for me it's more metaphysical. I think I've never recovered from the shock of discovering how much injustice, cruelty, and irrationality there was in the universe, and the books I've mentioned had a kind of moral reassurance that I needed¨indeed, still need. In such books good is always good; evil, evil; children can choose the right side and make a difference. Moreover, there are powers in the world that will help them; sometimes they can even harness these powers and become magical themselves. Though now I grudgingly accept muddle and ambiguity, I still find myself needing a quick fix of hopefulness from time to time.

Susan Glickman, poet and literary critic, Picturesque

& the Sublime: A Poetics of the Canadian Landscape

When Mrs. McBride, my grade 2 teacher at St. Claire School in Toronto took the class for an outing and I discovered the library for the first time I fell in love with books, so much so that I'm afraid I stopped playing with other children. I read from one end of the children's library to the other and then I hit the middle section of the room where the poetry books were kept. There I read and reread the books, but I remember the first poem. That got me hooked on poetry and that was John Keats, "La belle Dame Sans merci". It was haunting as well as musical, and I memorized it, but I kept going back to the book anyway to read it again and again. Sure I liked Now We Are Six as well as The Bad Child's Book of Verses, fairy tales like The Blue Book. Alice in Wonderland, I reread every year and remember the year it stopped being scary and started being funny¨as if the book had changed, not I! What a wonderful gift, for 5 cents that library card. Thank you Mrs. McBride.

Mary di Michele, poet, Debriefing the rose

I loved all the Narnia books, which I read passionately (although I was disappointed when I realized they were Christian). I also read lots of Enid Blyton (the Famous Five series in particular), a few of the Swallows and Amazons books, and many of C.S. Forester's Hornblower books, which followed a young officer as he rose through the ranks, and various famous battles, in Nelson's navy. They were subtly class-conscious stories of heroism and gentlemanly conduct which marked me. As a small child I was read to from humorous stories about a bear called Mary Plain. I loved them, although I cannot tell you who wrote them. You can see that all these influences are British (they were what my parents had brought with them from South Africa, where I was born). British literature went on to be my biggest influence in adulthood too. But I don't tend to go back and reread my childhood books. They make me sad for some reason.

Russell Smith, author and critic,

The Princess And The Whiskeads, 2002

I was an avid reader as a child. Like many future writers, I preferred the company of books to the company of most people. My mother recalls that, before I could read myself, I asked her to read the same stories repeatedly, saying "Again" as soon as she'd reached the final page. After a sufficient number of repetitions, I proceeded to repeat the story back to her in its entirety. The book she always mentions in this context was called Baby Rabbit's Bath. I can't remember it at all, and the book itself disappeared, sadly, from our household. I remember so many books as "special" that I couldn't single out only one. I think, though, that the books I loved most had two things in common: they took me elsewhere (like the Narnia books or At the Back of the North Wind and they understood me. I see now that, since most writers were misfits as children, they write about misfits¨and so I found myself in those books. Even as a young child, I liked grouchy Eeyore and worried Pooh, who were more like me than zany Tigger would ever be.

I refuse to throw out any of my children's books¨ some are here in Montreal with me, others are taking up space in my parents' basement in Burnaby, BC¨because they remain the books that most easily transport me into "that other place." They have their own magic, and they have the nostalgia that comes from remembering who I was when I first read them. My childhood wasn't idyllic¨whose is, really?¨but I certainly had more freedom to roam around in my imagination than I do now (yes, even as a writer), and so I entered the worlds of those books immediately. Somehow, because it was formed so early, that direct link is still there.

Stephanie Bolster, poet, Pavilion

It was part of our bedtime ritual, and when we became old enough, we read our own books in bed (and I continue¨I can't go to sleep unless I read a bit first). I remember a hardcover edition of Mother Goose¨I even remember the smell of the pages¨a little sharp, like wallpaper samples. My dad also read Robinson Crusoe over one season to my brother and me... I recall wanting bedtime to come so we could hear more. As I got older, other books captured the imagination. I don't remember the title of the book that featured a cartoon dog and cat wandering around Toronto, but I loved it, and thinking of it brings back a sensation of long-ago. I loved that these imaginary creatures were in the real place I lived in. I found comic books at a young age and adored them as well, from Richie Rich to Tintin. As I got older, I read Lloyd Alexander and many of the classics. I still have my colour-illustrated version of Black Beauty¨a girl book, I know, but I loved it just the same. I also still have, and am looking forward to passing on, my How and Why books¨great tabloid-sized books on science-related topics¨bugs, airplanes, spaceships...Being a parent now, I'm keenly aware of the bubble of warmth and joy books create around parents and children. Memories of reading (as opposed to memories of books themselves) are plentiful and correlate with happy times, or unhappy times when books were an escape. Reading in the back of the car with a penlight on a long drive to or from somewhere. Reading in the front room of the cottage. Reading in bed as a child, in my childhood bed, which had a row of compartments along the side that were filled with books. The books I read as a child (or that were read to me) conjure images of connection with either the world of the book or the reader of the book, and are a line that lead to my life now as a reader.

Michael Redhill, poet, critic and novelist,

Martin Sloane

The worst punishment my mom could devise when I'd been really bad, was "no reading for a whole week." The mere threat of such a terrible punishment would make me come to heel! I loved Alice in Wonderland¨Alice was, like me, always in a new country or place where strange inexplicable things happen and you can't quite figure out motivations. I also was lucky in that I grew up in India where I had an oral storyteller, Dropadi Ma, an old woman who had been my mother's nanny. She lived with us periodically, and in the evenings, she would recite the Janam-Sakhi stories of Guru Nanak's boyhood, or the Hindu epics: the whole Ramayan. Sometimes the Mahabharat, or the story of the next festival of the year. Her stories took hours, and in the case of the Ramayan or Mahabharat, lasted days.

They were chanted in Punjabi, and we were so involved in them, that if she changed a single word, we'd protest and correct her. The rhythm of Ma's chants sometimes comes through in my stories. Definitely comfort food, except that for me the food comfort zone is the one with steaming daal and rotis, spicy keema curry and cucumber raita!

Shauna Singh Baldwin, author,

What the Body Remembers

I was addicted. Among my favourites was a series that I think has long disappeared, of hardcovers with newsprint guts¨collections of stories about heroic dogs, heroic doctors who discovered cures for ghastly things, heroic horses. I can remember stacking a bunch of these up beside my bed (birthday or Christmas booty) and just gazing lovingly down on them, gloating at the reading pleasure ahead or, less happily, that which had now passed. I imagine these to have been fairly junky books. The delicious newsprint smell of the pages absolutely sent me. Even now, when I come across a book with the kind of cheap paper that eventually goes brittle in sunlight I open it up, snort the binding and am transported back. Lovely. My ultimately memorable book from childhood was a double story by Beverley Nichols (whom, years later I found out was a man) called The Tree that Sat down and The Stream that Stood Still. I also loved the line drawings that illustrated it and have been partial to that style of drawing ever since. I tried to turn my son on to this book when he was of age but he found it a yawn. I hid my devastation. And there was The Magic Wishbone which had a recurring exchange between father and daughter:

"You haven't forgotten it [the wishbone], have you?"
"Oh no, Papa"
"Or lost it, have you?"
"Oh no Papa."

I haven't forgotten it though I have lost it. The colour plates were on coated stock and also had an absolutely sensational smell. They were squeaky under the fingernail too. I can still recall the father's yellow and grey checkered trousers, very English, with spats. I still find myself occasionally repeating this little exchange when I can work it into conversation. Of course, no one has a clue what I mean. It contributes to rumours of my eccentricity.
Sarah Sheard, author, The Hypnotist


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