Dream Dad

by Holly Haggarty,
104 pages,
ISBN: 0929141512

Rosemary for Remembrance

by Sonia Craddock,
128 pages,
ISBN: 1550285289

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Children`s Books
by Welwyn Katz

Both these novels are meant for children who've said goodbye to Frog and Toad and are ready for longer stories that they can read by themselves. Both are printed in largish type with short paragraphs that produce lots of easy- looking white space despite the tiny margins. Both books are about children looking for something: a lost father for Willa in Dream Dad, a lost box for Rosy's grandmother in Rosemary for Remembrance. Both books verge on being "problem novels": that is, though they are written for much younger children, they have a whiff of the novels of adolescent angst that line the Older Readers' shelves in bookstores and libraries, and are built less around people than around Modern Issues to be Treated with Political Correctness. In Rosemary for Remembrance the threatening Issues are The Urban Poor and Alzheimer's Disease. Dream Dad is more subtle, but the scent of Issue is there: The Unwed Mother, and The Single-Parent Family. With so many similarities, though Dream Dad is a first novel, and Rosemary for Remembrance the work of a much-published writer, they beg to be reviewed together.

Despite her noted success with third-person narration in the lovely book Hal, the Third Class Hero, Sonia Craddock has chosen first-person in Rosemary for Remembrance. Everything that happens in the book must be filtered through Rosy, the eleven-year-old first-person narrator. That is, of course, why (while everyone else in this large family carries on frantically when Granny disappears, phoning the police and the hospitals and tearing off to look for her), Grandad sits quietly at the table with Rosy and then calmly tells her to come with him, because he knows where Granny is. The man who is so kind in the rest of the book would not let everyone else in the family be worried like this, were it not for the author's need to have her narrator witness the finding of Granny.

Such contrivances mar many first-person novels, but it is startling that a usually reliable writer like Craddock would fall into the trap of making herself a puppeteer instead of letting her characters be themselves. Unfortunately, she has paid little attention to characterization. Rosy's father is a gardener by trade, but his own garden is wild and full of "volunteers" (weeds). This should be made understandable to the reader, not just tossed off. Siblings (with one exception) are stereotypes. Only Rosy seems real.

The plot, too, is very weak. Granny has lost a special box (along with her memory). On her Bad Days, while living in the past so completely that she thinks Rosy is her sister Josephine, she is so worried about her present family's poverty that she looks for the box that will save the family business. We find this out this right at the beginning of the story. It would have been a more suspenseful book, and much more Rosy's story, if she had had to figure out on her own why Granny keeps disappearing, and where she goes when she does disappear. Unfortunately, Rosy has nothing to do in the book except to obey a few dilemma-causing commands her grandmother gives her (such as digging up Grandad's prize roses) and to be our eyes to observe her grandmother looking for the box. Craddock tries to give Rosy a role in Granny's eventual finding of the box, but to me that role seemed contrived and unbelievable. It is Granny who has the problem and Granny who solves it, and so she seems more the hero of this book than the first-person narrator. There are a couple of memorable scenes and a number of incidents that will make a third-grader laugh aloud, but the book as a whole is slight.

Dream Dad, on the other hand, is a carefully constructed, thoughtful book. All the characters are real and believable, and the person who has the problem in the story solves the problem in a thoroughly credible way. Willa Everett, a third-grader, has always been told she hasn't got a father. On previous Father's Days she has accepted this without question, but now the celebratory plans of a dictatorial supply teacher make Willa want to find out why she doesn't have a father, and what happened to him.

Everything Willa does to try to solve the mystery is something an eight -year-old might actually do. She builds new scenarios around her father each time she pries a bit of information from her mother's tight lips. She writes unsendable letters to him: her father the shipwrecked mariner, the pirate, the king of "Heyty", its president. (I wish the publisher had not chosen to use a computer script to let us read Willa's letters. The font is too perfect a script to represent a child of eight's handwriting, and our disbelief detracts from the sincerity of Willa's need to know and be known by her father.) Eventually, her attempts to find her father's address lead her into a serious enough situation to convince her mother to open the closed book of the past and make Willa understand.

I really liked the characters in this novel. Not one person-not even the minor characters-seemed contrived. Characters do what they do for their own reasons, not the author's. The only false note comes at the end. When Willa has found out the truth about her parents' relationship she comes to the too mature conclusion: "Now that she knew a little about him, he seemed even more a stranger than before." And it's a pity that the editors at Napoleon didn't demand of Haggarty a less mawkish final two sentences:

"And she would never forget him. He was a part of her story and he'd always be with her, a lingering dream of long ago and far away." Haggarty is a strong enough writer to come up with something much better than this to end her wonderful first novel. 

Welwyn Wilton Katz is a writer living in London, Ontario. She has been nominated for four Governor General's Awards for Children's Literature in the last nine years, and has actually won one of them.


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