Hockey, Camping, and Art
- Brian Deines (Illustrator) and Nancy Hundal (Author)
Camping. Fitzhenry & Whiteside (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Dean Griffiths (Illustrator) and David Bouchard (Author)
That's Hockey. Orca Book Publishers (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Ian Wallace (Author)
The Naked Lady. Roaring Book (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Anna Wittmann
Three new picture books by Canadian writers cover a wide gamut: hockey, camping and artistic creation. Nevertheless, all three deal with experiences and activities central to children’s lives, and in each work, a first-person narrator records a significant childhood discovery.
That’s Hockey joins Canadian hockey classics for and about children, taking up Roch Carrier’s and Sheldon Cohen’s theme of the hockey sweater and Ken Dryden’s reminiscences about backyard hockey in The Game (1984). This new book injects a vigorous note that challenges gender stereotypes that still exist in what is often viewed as an all-boys’ sport.
Plunging directly into animated dialogue, the first-person narrator (whose gender is not specified until the final page) is visiting her cousin for a weekend of hockey: "’What’s all this?’ I said when he tossed me a toque and an old, ratty Montreal Canadiens sweater. ’I’ve given away stuff twice this good! Where are our skates? Our pads and gloves?’" The urban cousin is going to find out what real hockey (rural children’s style) is about. In a lively account, accompanied by vibrant two-page spreads of illustrations with interestingly varied positionings of text, the narrative hurtles its readers through the excitement of a day of hockey among children in a small community that could be anywhere in Canada. The game is democratic.
Not only does the narrator—a mere city kid—win the players’ praise, but everyone scores. Showing a wisdom far superior to that of adults, the players dispense with winning and losing. When they head home, both teams have answered the victory call. The most memorable touch, however, is saved for the ending, where readers discover that the enthusiastic narrator is a girl. Now grown up, she passes on her "ratty" Canadiens’ sweater to her daughter: "With this sweater, sweetheart, you’ll do just fine."
Action crackles through the illustrations as well as the words. The integration of text and picture, with a strategic use of white space and a variation of long, medium, and close perspectives, leads the eye forward, eager for the next page. The figures, individualized by their variety of boots, toques, makeshift equipment and gestures, alongside the deft depiction of the occasional set of lop-sided glasses and gap-toothed grins, move on the page.
By comparison, Camping and Naked Lady, while fine achievements in their own ways, are somewhat disappointing. They will be harder sells, picture books that parents might choose for children but that will, for all but a few readers, prompt the response, "Can’t we read something else?"
The theme of camping has potential, but Hundal and Deines’ book tries too hard to create a tone of enthusiasm. It falls short. We meet a family who, because of financial constraints, forsake holiday dreams of museums, art galleries, hotels, arcades and Disneyland to go camping. This could well be a journey of adventure, but the camping experience does not really take off. The illustrations, in spite of the subtlety of the photographic realist style, do not move. Happy family members, all wearing expressions of rather feckless contentment, remain in static poses. The words and pictures do not combine into a dynamic unit. The reader will suspect that days when "Mom reads. Dad snoozes, Laurie stares at the sky. Duncan watches ants on parade. I stare down a mosquito" are really not what they are cracked up to be. The illustrations succeed somewhat better than the text. Subtle oil strokes create a sense of dappled daylight interspersed with light-flecked nights, suggesting the shrouded enclosure of the campground. But in a campsite of gravel-crunching cars and friends who come to play, where are the other people? We do not see or hear them.
Naked Lady takes on an even more difficult task, that of making a visual artist’s inspiration and experience come to life. This is a thoughtful book, the meditative tone maintained by muted colours in a combination of pencil and watercolour.
In spite of its provocative title, the book is unlikely to evoke outraged responses from moral-majority parent groups. The "naked lady" is a classic sculpture created by a grieving artist (Wallace’s first art teacher; the story is autobiographical) to commemorate his wife. Nevertheless, seeing a naked lady in an open field causes the first-person narrator to drop the raspberry pie his mother has sent the new neighbour. Soon, however, the boy discovers that "Pieter had lit a fire inside me. I wanted to be an artist, too."
Wallace’s style of illustration, like that of his first art teacher Pieter Doef, is realist, and the result is pensive but not dynamic. The layout is classic, with text on the left page and pictures (a variation of long and medium views) on the right. As with Camping, the human figures remain static, as when, for instance, in a somewhat failed attempt at humour, the narrator’s father tries to imitate the statue’s pose. The story suggests that art grows from human experience and transplants itself into the earth, but the scenes depicting the artist’s sculptures do not work. Particularly in snow-covered surroundings, the sculptures are overwhelmed by the landscape. Nevertheless, this book is likely to inspire a few thoughtful, artistically inclined young readers.
- Reality is Nice, Too by Hilary Turner
Books reviewed: The Day I Became a Canadian: A Citizenship Scrapbook by Jo Bannatyne-Cugnet and Song Nan Zhang and Hurricane! by Celia Godkin
- Non-Fiction Picture Books by Lynn (J.R.) Wytenbroek
Books reviewed: The Hospital by Debbie Bailey, We Need to Go to School: Voices of the Rugmark Children by Tanya Roberts-Davis, Wizards: An Amazing Journey through the Last Great Age of Magic by Candace Savage, and Ultra Hush-Hush: Espionage and Special Missions by David Craig, Tina Forrester, and Stephen Shapiro
- First Nations Identity by Jennifer Kramer
Books reviewed: The Star-Man and Other Tales by Jonas George (Wah-sa-ghe-zik) and Basil H. Johnston, Privileging the Past: Reconstructing History in Northwest Coast Art by Judith Ostrowitz, The Trickster Shift: Humour and Irony in Contemporary Native Art by Allan J. Rayan, What's the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses? by Richard Van Camp and George Littlechild, and Mythic Beings: Spirit of the Northwest Coast by Gary Wyatt
- Sundry Tundra Fun by Hilary Turner
Books reviewed: Bird Child by Nan Forler, Out of Slavery: The Journey to Amazing Grace by Linda Granfield, Sail Away with Me by Jane Collins-Philippe, and What Came First? by Sandro Natalini
- The School of Life by Gisèle M. Baxter
Books reviewed: The Shepherd's Granddaughter by Anne Laurel Carter, The Saver by Edeet Ravel, and Skim by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
MLA: Wittmann, Anna. Hockey, Camping, and Art. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 8 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #181 (Summer 2004), (Wiseman, Livesay, Sime, Connelly, Robinson). (pg. 109 - 110)
***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.