Factual Picture Books
- Kirsti Ann Wakelin (Illustrator) and Sheryl MacFarlane (Author)
A Pod of Orcas. Fitzhenry & Whiteside (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Laurie Skreslet (Author) and Elizabeth McLeod (Author)
To the Top of Everest. Kids Can Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Celia Godkin (Author)
When the Giant Stirred. Fitzhenry & Whiteside (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Lynn (J.R.) Wytenbroek
When the Giant Stirred, A Pod of Orcas, and To the Top of Everest are wonderful examples of top quality picture books that are either completely factual or fact based. They are also marvelous tools for teaching about the natural world.
When the Giant Stirred is about the cycle of life on a volcanic island. Starting with the life already established, Godkin describes through words and stunning illustrations the richness, diversity and beauty of the flora and fauna on and around a tropical volcanic island. She also depicts the people living on the island, explaining something of the life of the people of the Pacific Islands that are, from time to time, rocked and even destroyed by the very volcanic forces that gave them life. She follows the cycle of life to the reawakening of the volcano, and the flight from the island, first of birds and then of the people.
But the book does not stop there. The centre page has no words in it it simply shows the tremendous eruption that leaves the island a hollowed out semi circle devoid of life. Then Godkin tells the story of the cycle of death to rebirth, showing how life begins again, with seeds and insects being blown over from other islands, birds and turtles arriving, and life re-establishing itself where there was, only years before, emptiness.
Godkin is a biologist, and her attention to detail makes the illustrations exquisite. The reader can almost smell the flowers and hear the birds, they are so vivid and alive.
Godkin’s one weakness is her humans they are not very well drawn and they all seem to wear the same expression on their faces. However, as they feature very little in the book and are rarely the centre of the illustrations, this detracts only a little from the excellence of the overall work. The story is simply enough told for Grade One and Two children to enjoy, yet has enough information to keep older children interested. By telling the history of a volcanic island in a narrative format, Godkin makes the information in this book accessible to both science lovers and children who simply love a good story.
A Pod of Orcas is a book for even younger children than Godkin’s. Aimed at children just learning how to count, it is a counting book with a difference. Set on the West Coast of British Columbia, the book teaches children to count up to ten, with each number counting either sea creatures or sea going vessels or activities that children could be involved in at the beach and so on.
There are two numbers every second page, with rhymes that explain what each number is counting. The rest of that page and the one across from it is taken up with vivid watercolour paintings by Kirsti Anne Wakelin. The illustrations are so utterly real that the reader can, as with Godkin’s book, experience the scenes. The faces of the seals bobbing just above the water, the bodies of the orcas flinging themselves out of the water or the eagles sailing calmly through the sky are perfect. Again, the only weakness is the humans. The shapes are fine, and the children assume very natural poses, but the faces are not particularly good. However, this artist too has concentrated on the natural scenes and, overall, the book is excellent.
To the Top of Everest is slightly different. The autobiography of Laurie Skreslet, the first Canadian climber to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, it provides a bit of back¬ground about Skreslet and then devotes the rest of the book to the climb, from establishing the base camp through to the return from the summit of Everest. It is realistic and honest about the hardships of such an undertaking, such as the deaths of four members of the climbing team and the injuries of others that stopped them from making it to the summit themselves. But it is equally honest about the joys and triumphs of the expedition. The book is full of facts about mountain climbing, but also about mountains themselves, and draws very clearly a picture of the people who are driven to climb. It is an inspirational book and yet is designed to challenge young people to face their own fears, as well as their dreams.
The pictures in To the Top of Everest are photographs which chronicle much of the journey the team undertook, as well as showing the reader the people themselves, their camps, and the conditions under which they both lived and climbed during the expedition. The photographs help bring the expedition and the people to life in a way that would, otherwise, be impossible. At 56 pages, the book appeals to younger readers, but its factual and photographic art address significantly older readers as well.
- Secondary Readers by Adrienne Kertzer
Books reviewed: Children's Literature. Blackwell Guides to Literature by Peter Hunt, Boys and Girls Forever: Children's Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter by Alison Lurie, and Readers in Wonderland: The Liberating Worlds of Fantasy Fiction from Dorothy to Harry Potter by Deborah O'Keefe
- History Made Interesting by Lynn (J.R.) Wytenbroek
Books reviewed: Beginnings: Stories of Canada's Past by Ann Walsh, The Name of the Child by Don Kilby and Marilynn Reynolds, Winds through Time: An Anthology of Canadian Historical Young Adult Fiction by Ann Walsh, and Sacred Sarah by Mary Alice Downie and Muriel Wood
- Writing Adolescent Despair by Andrew O'Malley
Books reviewed: Giant Despair Meets Hopeful: Kristevan Readings in Adolescent Fiction by Martha Westwater, The Boy in the Burning House: A Novel by Tim Wynne-Jones, and Looking for X by Deborah Ellis
- Crossroads by Klay Dyer
Books reviewed: The Dominion of Wyley McFadden by Scott Gardiner, Burridge Unbound by Alan Cumyn, and The Grave by James Heneghan
- Non-Generic Brands by Mark Libin
Books reviewed: Monkeypuzzle by Rita Wong, The Girl from Ermita & Selected Poems: 1961-1998 by Goh Poh Seng, and The Boy in the Attic by Gu Xiong and Paul Yee
MLA: Wytenbroek, Lynn (J.R.). Factual Picture Books. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 27 Mar. 2012. Web. 24 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #181 (Summer 2004), (Wiseman, Livesay, Sime, Connelly, Robinson). (pg. 131 - 132)
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