Nature Red in Tooth and Claw
- Christopher Patton (Author) and Cybèle Young (Illustrator)
Jack Pine. Groundwood (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Barbara Wyn Klunder (Author)
Other Goose: Recycled Rhymes for Our Fragile Times. Groundwood (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Shelley Falconer (Author) and Shawna White (Author)
Stones, Bones and Stitches: Storytelling through Inuit Art. Tundra Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Wallace Edwards (Author)
The Painted Circus: P.T. Vermin presents A Mesmerizing Menagerie of Trickery and Illusion Guaranteed to Beguile and Bamboozle the Beholder. Kids Can Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
The four illustrated books examined here are loosely connected by their focus on some area of human confrontation with nature. Much of the art and narrative in these books acknowledge, on some level, a fear of nature’s power.
Other Goose, a reissue of Barbara Wyn Klunder’s 1980s collection of ‘nursery rhymes’ is a slim hardcover with a black and greenish beige colour scheme. Each poem is accompanied by the author’s own etched illustration on the facing page. Klunder revises well-known Mother Goose rhymes to concoct some mildly amusing poems that are not subtle in their satire. Klunder takes the Mother Goose rhymes as a starting point for commentary on current issues that seem relevant to the discussions familiar to urban Canadians, particularly in the focus on environmental responsibility. Her rhymes include commentary on worthy issues such as logging, fuel consumption, poverty, the hazards of smoking, etc. Klunder’s rhymes present nature as the victim of human ignorance, selfishness and greed, on the brink of destruction by human tooth and claw. The target audience seems to be adults, despite the reference to and format of the nursery rhyme. There may be a specialized group of children that would find the issues or rhymes comprehensible, but in general, these would go over the heads of children who might be at an age able to read or listen to a book of nursery rhymes. The woodcut illustrations have a certain stark appeal, and emphasize a harsh, polluted world, but again, seem geared more to adult than child audiences.
Wallace Edwards, a Governor-General’s Award recipient whose previous books include Alphabeasts and Monkey Business, has written a playful picture book that aims to entertain children with its colourful illustrations and its puzzles. In The Painted Circus, the author puts together an elaborate visual illusion on every page of this handsome hardcover book, inviting each child, in the brief text at the bottom of the page, to challenge his or her expectations about what he/she sees. It will be difficult not to become actively engaged with the puzzles contained in the illustrations. The author himself has lavishly illustrated this circus book. Colourful watercolours and gouaches fill the entire space of every page. The complexity of every illustration suggests that readers will return more than once to each page – there is something new to discover each time. Every illustration is literally framed, but outside the frame lurk many strange, often violently coloured creatures – which, like many of the creatures within the main frame – are somewhat disturbing, with distended mouths, large teeth and disproportionate heads and bodies. The human figures interspersed with the animals are given the same exaggerated treatment. Children’s literature in particular, often makes use of anthropomorphism, and audiences are familiar with talking mice who wear boots and coats or birds who wear hats, but here, that anthropomorphism goes a step further. The expressions on the faces of the characters, whether human or animal, are so similar, that the boundaries between animals as humans are blurred. As these creatures break the boundaries of the orderliness the frame tries to impose, they underline the controlled chaos and rebellion that threaten to overwhelm the action within each frame. While many children may enjoy the chaos, the puzzles and the imaginative creatures, children younger than six might find many of the images overwhelming.
Stones, Bones and Stitches analyses and articulates connections between photographic images of Inuit life and photographs of Inuit art. Each piece of art is accompanied by interviews with the artists and analysis of their work and artistic philosophy. The works exhibited in this book are associated with the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Human beings’ perception of and connection with the natural world are the concepts that unify the various images and artistic media. The media here includes sculptures of stone and of bone, as well as fabric-based work, such as beaded embroidery and felt stitching. Although some of the art’s primitive style, seen in the stone and bone sculpture of the evil spirit, Alliok, might disturb some younger readers, the variety of art is wide enough that there will be something to interest most readers. The authors not only locate the art culturally, but also geographically, providing maps and brief informative paragraphs on those regions. This non-fiction book is illustrated with many black and white and colour photographs to accompany museum displays of Inuit art. This book would appeal to a wide audience of children: younger children would find interest in the illustrations, and could have much of the text read to them, while children over 12 would find it fascinating to read this and find out more about the art they themselves may have encountered in museum visits. The accessible language and varied formatting of text and illustration on each page would retain their interest. This is a solid, informative early book for children interested in Inuit art, culture and history.
Christopher Patton’s Jack Pine is a prose poem that is both informative and imaginative as it teaches children about the natural world. The author sympathetically portrays the pine’s role in the ecosystem and represents the history of human misunderstandings about it by focusing on one fictional, though realistic case in which a farmer blames the pine for the poor soil quality and even for the death of his cattle. The pine is seen as useless and even harmful by humans, while the ecosystem, including the other varieties of pine, benefits from its sheltering qualities and its hardiness. Each type of pine in the poem is given its own voice, so that the poem is told from many perspectives. The author also provides a brief one-page history of the pines featured in the poem for the curious child – aged from six upwards – who might want to know more. The connection between all different aspects of animal and plant life is constantly evoked by the collage illustrations. The technique of printing photographs of Cybèle Young’s etchings and subtle watercolours, rather than printing them directly on the page makes them tactile and immediate.
Each very different in its nature and intended audience, these books all acknowledge a deep, primeval relationship between the natural world and human imagination.
- Coming of Age in Canada by J. Kieran Kealy
Books reviewed: Odd Man Out by Sarah Ellis, Kanada by Eva Wiseman, and Rex Zero and the End of the World by Tim Wynne-Jones
- Adventures in Ontario by Richard Scrimger
Books reviewed: Into the Ravine by Richard Scrimger, Death in Kingsport by Richard Scrimger, and When the Bough Breaks by Irene N. Watts
- Hockey Margins by Jason Blake
Books reviewed: Le Canadien de Montréal: Une légende repensée by Audrey Laurin-Lamothe and Nicolas Moreau, Refereeing Identity: The Cultural Work of Canadian Hockey Novels by Michael Buma, and Stickhandling through the Margins: First Nations Hockey in Canada by Michael Robidoux
- Outside the Ordinary by Jodi Lundgren
Books reviewed: Things Go Flying by Shari Lapeña, Stunt by Claudia Day, and Twenty Miles by Cara Hedley
- Historic Heroines by Rachelle Delaney
Books reviewed: Home Free by Kim Thúy and Folly by Marthe Jocelyn
MLA: Bose, Sarika P, Bose, Sarika P, Bose, Sarika P, Bose, Sarika P, Edwards, Wallace, Falconer, Shelley, Klunder, Barbara Wyn, Patton, Christopher, White, Shawna, and Young, Cybèle. Nature Red in Tooth and Claw. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 7 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #198 (Autumn 2008), Canada and Its Discontents. (pg. 142 - 143)
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