- Peter Mitchell (Author) and Kate Scowen (Author)
i.d.: Stuff That Happens to Define Us. Annick Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Deborah Ellis (Author)
We Want You to Know: Kids Talk about Bullying. Coteau Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Gisèle M. Baxter
In examining children’s/"young adult" fiction treating social problems, I often ask myself, who reads this? People actually experiencing the problems, or people viewing them from the outside? Recently, in reviewing the Tamakis’ superb graphic novel Skim, I observed that reading it as an adult and knowing that many growing pains do end must be quite different from reading it as a teen in the midst of their anguish. Two recent collections of anecdotes address significant problems many children and teens face in growing up, from the point of view of people who are with few exceptions still very young, their memories still raw.
Deborah Ellis is renowned as an author of fiction and non-fiction examining the lives of young people in a variety of global settings, promoting a global awareness of the issues they face. We Want You to Know compiles a series of prose passages derived from open-ended interviews with a number of young people in southern Ontario who are affected by bullying, mostly as victims but in some cases as perpetrators. Several are in their teens, others are around 10 years old. Their stories are followed by open-ended questions aimed at readers, and are interspersed with sticky-note style boxes offering concise thoughts on bullying by children and teens around the world.
Kate Scowen is a social worker who, in collecting the stories for i.d., had them transcribed and illustrated by Peter Mitchell in a style that echoes Ralph Steadman’s exaggerated perspective. These stories cover a range of issues, including body image, culture and ethnicity, abuse, depression, sexuality and gender identit, and are followed by conventional text summaries of responses to interview questions concerning the aftermath and consequences.
The stories in both books are often heartbreaking, even the simplest of them, especially in the straightforward, colloquial tone of their narration. It is a relief to find resources listed at the ends of both texts, so that readers identifying with these issues from experience (or who know people in these situations) will realize there are places they can contact for help. While i.d. seems to assume a teen audience, and so more or less lets the teen voices speak for themselves, We Want You to Know does seem to assume some intermediary, probably a teacher, who would use the questions for class discussion exercises. The questions could often use a few more prompts, as they sometimes seem to assume "right or wrong", "yes or no" answers, and the global comments need a little more context, as they often beg disturbing questions (one girl refers to bullies being severely punished at two levels of school administration: what does this mean? what might the implications of this approach be?).
The aims of Ellis’s book are straightforward, its perspective optimistic. It largely presents children who see bullying as preventable (although the book makes clear it is pervasive). Perhaps this arises from its assumption of a fairly young, teachable audience who then will seek to make this change (so that it would benefit from addressing the context issues identified above). i.d. sometimes suggests that the consequences of that defining stuff might linger; this is disturbing, but also true, and food for thought both for teens and the adults they eventually become.
- Books of Beast by John Considine
Books reviewed: Alphabeasts by Wallace Edwards, Baby Elephant by Aubrey Lang and Wayne Lynch, Baby Lion by Aubrey Lang and Wayne Lynch, and Baby Fox by Aubrey Lang and Wayne Lynch
- Taking Control by Suzanne James
Books reviewed: Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom by Susan Nielson and Living Outside the Lines by Lesley Choyce
- No Escape from the Past by Suzanne James
Books reviewed: Unsettling Narratives: Postcolonial Readings of Children's Literature by Clare Bradford
- Fun Picture Books by Lynn (J.R.) Wytenbroek
Books reviewed: The Art Room by Susan Vande Griek and Pascal Milelli, Lessons from Mother Earth by Elaine McLeod and Colleen Wood, and Give Maggie a Chance by Dean Griffiths and Frieds Wishinsky
- For Young Readers by Elizabeth Hodgson
Books reviewed: Girls' Own: An Anthology of Canadian Fiction for Young Readers by Sarah Ellis and Boys' Own: An Anthology of Canadian Fiction for Young Readers by Tim Wynne-Jones
MLA: Baxter, Gisèle M. Growing Pains. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #207 (Winter 2010), Mordecai Richler. (pg. 132 - 133)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.