Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Chet narrates the events and I found his voice rather annoying for the first while. All that barking... just kidding. He addresses the reader in short, often incomplete, sentences. (Hard-boiled detective style; just the facts, ma'm. Except that Chet's facts do tend to meander: "Snake. I don't like snakes.") What I found tedious are sentences like this: "They get upset, humans, and then water comes out of their eyes. What is that all about?" But then, I got caught up in the storyline and decided I really liked Chet and forgave him for being a dog.
Other people have said they laughed out loud while reading this book. I smiled a lot. Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann, a mystery solved by a herd of sheep, has something of the same appeal.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
A totally offbeat wordless graphic novel from a Canadian who draws on his exposure to Korean culture while he was teaching in Seoul, Ojingogo features the adventures of a girl and her (reluctant) pet squid in a place where anything can happen. In an Alice in Wonderland sort of way, people - and animals and even cameras - can grow larger or smaller. A monster may be carted off by a larger monster. It's funny. It's surreal. It's great. Grade 3 - adult.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Eliza is a very small child, all skin and bones, yet she finds the courage to stand up to bullies who torment Lainey, a new girl at her school. I really liked the author's approach to the issue of bullying, focussing on the shame of a bystander. Eliza talks to her mother about what to do and is given guidance, but it is Eliza herself who comes up with a solution. After challenging the bullies, Eliza asks Lainey, "Can I play with you?" The question demonstrates respect for Lainey - it would have been an entirely different balance of power if Eliza had invited Lainey to join her instead.
This "Book and CD for Discovering the Birds of the World" is hard to categorize. First published in France, the original title (Chante, rossignol, chante!) is a line from a well-known folk song: A la claire fontaine. It suits this rather folksy presentation. The illustrations are bright woodcuts (by Chiaki Miyamoto) that give only a general impression of the sizes, shapes and colours of a wide variety of birds. It is most definitely not a field guide. A short description of each bird usually includes some interesting fact as well as their nesting and diet habits. The CD that comes with the book has brief recordings of most (not all) of the birds pictured. These are interspersed with original piano compositions by Daniel Goyone, playing in duet with bird songs.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
A tiny red-headed girl spends her days under the loving eye of her family's Black housekeeper, who saves the child from drowning when she ventures off on her own. The watercolour illustrations by David Small capture the sunlight and breezes of a seaside home in summer. Author Sarah Stewart (Small's wife) dedicates this book to "all the people across the world who have saved the lives of children by paying attention when others did not -- but especially to Ola Beatrice Smith." It is clear that the tale is autobiographical: Beatrice Smith is the name of the housekeeper within the story and the final page shows the child grown into a woman, standing by a typewriter and pressing her hand to a locket over her breast. On the back end pages, the locket lies open and Small has collaged a photo inside: a black woman holding a red-haired baby. Children from pre-school to Grade 2 are the obvious audience for this picture book, but adults will appreciate it on a different level. A good pairing for readers who enjoyed The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Dick is a penniless orphan who grows up to be mayor of London. He gets rich thanks to a cat who is a champion mouser. Marcia Brown's retelling of this legend was first published in 1950. Her striking linocut illustrations stand the test of time, but her colonialist attitude does not. I found her portrayal of the Moors of Barbary offensive and would not recommend this book for children.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
Two recent books offer a look through Canadian eyes at a country suffering under one of the most oppressive military regimes in the world: Burma/Myanmar. The books complement each other well, one relying on comic strips and the other on the imagery evoked by lyrical language. Cartoonist Delisle (Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China; Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea) documents a year spent in Rangoon, caring for his infant son while his wife worked for Medecins Sans Frontiers. Connelly reveals her experiences in Burma and Thailand of more than a decade ago, when she began writing The Lizard Cage - a harrowing novel about punishment and courage - and fell in love not only with Burma, but with a Burmese man. The distillation of Connelly's lessons is that to care is the essential human act.
This is an absolutely stunning, wordless picture book. Pinkney retells Aesop's fable of the mouse remembering a debt to the lion. Words are used only as part of the background animal noises within watercolour paintings that show the teeming life of the Serengeti. An excellent gift for children from 3 to 7.