- Ainslie Manson (Author) and Mary Jane Gerber (Illustrator)
House Calls: The True Story of a Pioneer Doctor. Douglas & McIntyre (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Gloria Calderon (Illustrator), Maria Elena Maggi (Author), and Elisa Amado (Translator)
The Great Canoe: A Karina Legend. Douglas & McIntyre (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Joanne Fitzgerald (Illustrator) and Celia Barker Lottridge (Author)
The Little Rooster and the Diamond Button. Douglas & McIntyre (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Adwoa Badoe (Author) and Baba Wagué Diakité (Illustrator)
The Pot of Wisdom: Ananse Stories. Douglas & McIntyre (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Lynn (J.R.) Wytenbroek
Stories from many different cultures have become something of a hallmark of Canadian children’s literature over the last few years, particularly picture books. A current selection of children’s picture books bears out the fact that Canada supports a diverse population contributing a rich mosaic of stories from different lands and their cultures.
The Great Canoe: A Karina Legend retold by Maria Elena Maggi is a perfect example. The book has a minimal text which retells the story of the great flood, not the Noah’s Ark version but a very similar version told by the Karina Natives (known to the Spaniards and therefore to history as the Carib Indians). It is the story of Kaputano, the Sky Dweller, who warns his children of a great flood coming. He is believed by only four couples who build a large boat under his direction, putting two of every animal species on the boat, as well as seeds from every plant. After the devastation of the flood that wipes all life from the land, Kaputano recreates the rich land his people once enjoyed and they and the animals they have saved repopulate the region. The similarity to the biblical tale of Noah is astounding, and bears out Sir James Frazer’s report of similar Deluge myths all over the world.
The text is simply yet beautifully written, particularly in the way it reveals the emotions of both the people who disbelieve Kaputano’s words and those who survive the flood. The illustrations by Gloria Calderon are bold and evocative of both place and people. They depict and expand the text, making it a rich book for readers young and old to enjoy. The afterword in the book explains a little of the history of the Karina people, of interest to older readers.
The Pot of Wisdom: Ananse Stones is a book of stories from Ghana about Ananse, the spider. Like Native American coyote stories, these tales depict both the wisdom and the foolishness of the African trickster figure, Ananse (who inspired the name of the House of Anansi). This collection often stories include many twists and turns as Ananse craftily changes the rules by which things work, or as he is caught and let down by his own "cleverness." These tales are accompanied by Baba Wague Diakite’s amazing pictures, many of which are photographs of his painted and glazed earthenware tiles or bowls. These pictures are bright in colour and bold in shape, without a lot of detail. Each one- to three-page story is accompanied by one coloured picture, which often depicts several parts of the story in one amalgamated whole. The brightness of the colours is attractive while the boldness and lack of detail give a distinctly African "look" and atmosphere to the book. This picture book is a wonderful introduction to characters from a folklore tradition that will be unfamiliar to many readers, yet is reminiscent of stories of tricksters from all over the world. This is again a book that will delight both children and adult readers.
A folktale that is a little closer to home for many readers is The Little Rooster and the Diamond Button, retold by master folktale story-maker Celia Barker Lottridge. This folktale comes from Hungary, although it has variants as far away as India. It tells the story of a diamond button found by a rooster belonging to a very poor woman, a button then taken by the greedy and incredibly wealthy sultan. The rooster follows the sultan back to his palace to reclaim the button and, through his persistence and cleverness, as well as his ability to swallow huge quantities of things like water, bees, and diamond buttons, does in fact get not only the button but other riches as well, so that he and the old woman can live the rest of their lives in comfort. The theme is a familiar one in European folktales, but is particularly endearing in this tale as it is the rooster himself who outwits the sultan for the sake of his mistress, whom he loves. The animal/human bond is explored here in a fresh way.
The illustrations by Joanne Fitzgerald are in keeping with the tale. The sultan is shown to be not only greedy and wealthy but dissipated in the illustrations while his servants are distinctly down at heel, adding to the reader’s desire to see the rooster best this unpleasant character. The illustrations therefore add immensely to the atmosphere of the story, as well as being bright and colourful watercolour depictions of important parts of the story itself. Again, as is the case with most folktales with good illustrations, this book will appeal to both child readers and adult lovers of folktales.
The last book is not a folktale of any kind, but is rather a vignette of history from the Peterborough area in Ontario. House Calls: The True Story of a Pioneer Doctor is told by Ainslie Manson from the point of view of a girl who lives next door to the doctor and his family. She begins as the doctor’s patient but ends up as his assistant. So the story is warmly and lovingly told through the memories of a child, memories of someone she loved, admired and respected. It is more an illustrated book than a picture book, having a lot of text and much historical detail, although Manson keeps that detail interesting and pertinent. Mary Jane Gerber’s brown and white illustrations have a "folk art" look to them, entirely appropriate for the story but not appealing to a very young reader, who would not be interested in the detailed story anyway. This is a book definitely aimed at six- to ten-year-old readers and is a wonderful way to introduce children to an intimate portrait of a small piece of Canadian history that was repeated, with variations, again and again in pioneer communities throughout our country.
Every one of these stories, from the simply told The Great Canoe to the richly detailed and more complex House Calls, engages the reader through both story and art, offering a wonderful world of new perspectives through folktale or forgotten people of our own past.
- YA First Person Narratives Uneven by Lynn (J.R.) Wytenbroek
Books reviewed: My One Hundred Adventures by Polly Horvath and Would You by Marthe Jocelyn
- Beyond Domesticity by Suzanne James
Books reviewed: Out of the Box by Michell Mulder, She Said/She Saw by Norah McClintock, and Stones for my Father by Trilby Kent
- Growing Up Funny by Linda Pratt
Books reviewed: All the Way to Mexico by Norma M. Charles and My Name is Mitch by Shelagh Lynne Supeene
- Outside the Ordinary by Jodi Lundgren
Books reviewed: Things Go Flying by Shari Lapeña, Stunt by Claudia Day, and Twenty Miles by Cara Hedley
- More About Anne by Janice Fiamengo
Books reviewed: Looking for Anne: How Lucy Maud Montgomery Dreamed Up a Literary Classic by Irene Gammel
MLA: Wytenbroek, Lynn (J.R.). Picture Books. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 25 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #180 (Spring 2004), (Montgomery, Carson, Bissoondath, Goodridge). (pg. 159 - 160)
***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.