Canadian Picture Books
- Tim Beiser (Author) and Rachel Berman (Illustrator)
Bradley McGogg, the Very Fine Frog. Tundra Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Jim McGugan (Author) and Murray Kimber (Illustrator)
Josepha: A Prairie Boy’s Story. Red Deer College Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Andrea Spalding (Author) and Pascal Milelli (Illustrator)
Seal Song. Orca Book Publishers (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Ludmila Zeman (Author)
Sindbad: From the Tales of the Thousand and One Nights. Tundra Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Judith Saltman
The thirty-two-page picture book is, for many children, their first exposure to story and art. The format encompasses many genres. This selection of four titles includes historical fiction, fantasy, poetry, and folklore and includes reissues of award-winning and shortlisted titles, some originally published almost twenty years ago.
The often painful experience of immigrants in Canada is explored in Josepha: A Prairie Boy’s Story, originally published in 1994. The text is a poignant remembrance of an early twentieth-century prairie boyhood as the narrator recalls the loss of his friend, the adolescent immigrant Josepha, who is leaving the schoolhouse and the bullying he has experienced due to his size and struggle with language. Kimber’s stylized oil paintings are evocative of Edward Hopper’s, in the eerie calm of the imagery, and the work of muralist Thomas Hart Benton, in epic rural feeling. Dramatic prairie vistas of horizon and endless sky are depicted as stormy and turbulent with fierce brushstrokes.
Sindbad: from the Tales of the Thousand and One Nights, originally published in 1999, is the first of a Sindbad trilogy of Arabian Nights tales. Zeman retells and illustrates the mythical sailing voyages of Sindbad the Sailor, framing the tales through the classic structure of cunning Shahrazad enthralling King Shahriyat with her marvellous storytelling over a thousand and one nights. The atmosphere of the Persian folk tales and the ninth century Arabic culture of ancient Baghdad are beautifully evoked through character, setting, and metaphor. Sindbad’s strange adventures are conflated and suspensefully chronicled as he travels across oceans and countries, escaping from a whale-island, a giant flying Roc, and valleys filled with diamonds and poisonous serpents. Zeman’s illustrations provide both historical and folkloric context in the subtle colours and etching-like style which recall early manuscripts and maps, as well as Persian miniature paintings and Oriental carpets.
Bradley McGogg, the Very Fine Frog is a paperback issue of a 2008 publication. Beiser’s comic verse in rhyming couplets and catchy rhythm begs to be read aloud in this classic anthropomorphized animal fable of a hungry frog’s journey through his animal friends’ culinary tastes and talents, with the final return home and realization that his taste for his bog bugs is just right. Usually slightly nonsensical stories are matched by cartoon art. Berman’s fine draughtsmanship, however, is a comic realism blended with fine realist imagery and sets the tale in a British fantasy world of Edwardian clothing, class, and behaviour. The style recalls early twentieth-century classic children’s books with finely realized Beatrix Potteresque detail and echoes of the shadowy fields and woods of Arthur Rackham.
Seal Song is a 2011 release, inspired by traditional Celtic Selkie folktales. All Selkie tales are touched by tragedy and loss as the female seal shape-shifts into a human woman’s form to join her human lover, but must ultimately return to her seal existence. Adapted by Spalding for a child audience, loss is tempered, love becomes friendship, and adults become children. The formal text retains the grave and romantic tone of folklore and incorporates free-verse poetry in lyrical songs that echo folkloric rhyme. Milelli’s illustrations in oil are slightly abstracted and cubist. The imagery creates a recognizable, early twentieth-century British Columbia coastal fishing community. Harbours, islands, conifers and arbutus, and the palette of blues, greens, and burnt umber evoke the spirit of Emily Carr and E.J. Hughes channelled through Cézanne. The design and typography of the poems enhance the emotional cadence and parallel the movement in the underwater scenes.
Each of these titles is different in tone and style. The range reflects the strength of Canada’s vibrant picture books.
- Children Alone by Lynn (J.R.) Wytenbroek
Books reviewed: Pure Spring by Brian Doyle and The Royal Woods by Matt Duggan
- Worthy of Serious Study by Judy Brown
Books reviewed: Growing Up: Childhood in English Canada from the Great War to the Age of Television by Neil Sutherland, Children in English Canadian Society: Framing the Twentieth Century Consensus by Neil Sutherland, and Canadian Children's Books: A Critical Guide to Authors and Illustrators by Raymond Jones and Jon Stott
- Storying Northern History by Sherrill Grace
Books reviewed: The Ice Master: A Novel of the Arctic by James Houston, Trapped in Ice by Eric Walters, and The Man From the Creeks by Robert Kroetsch
- Empowering the Heroine by Kristen Guest
Books reviewed: The Burning Time by Carol Matas, Orphan Ahwak by Raquel Rivera, and Prisoners Under Glass by R. Patrick
- Engendering China by Lily Cho
Books reviewed: Chinese Femininities, Chinese Masculinities by Susan Brownell and Jeffrey Wasserstrom and Tales of a Chinese Grandmother by Frances Carpenter
MLA: Saltman, Judith. Canadian Picture Books. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 23 Apr. 2012. Web. 20 May 2013.
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