Reality is Nice, Too
- Celia Godkin (Author)
Hurricane!. Fitzhenry & Whiteside (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Song Nan Zhang (Illustrator) and Jo Bannatyne-Cugnet (Author)
The Day I Became a Canadian: A Citizenship Scrapbook. Tundra Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Hilary Turner
It is a cultural blind spot of ours that children’s non-fiction picture books are not cooed over as effusively as are their fictional siblings. In them, the demands of narrative are as rigorous, and the task of sustaining the reader’s interest in matters of fact, not fantasy, is as demanding. Here, as evidence, are two intelligent and absorbing picture books that tell engaging stories which happen to be true.
Celia Godkin’s Hurricane! is a work of science, powerfully informed by the author’s ecological awareness. With beautiful watercolour illustrations, the book charts the beginning, middle, end, and aftermath of a hurricane somewhere in the Florida Keys. The approaching storm is described first from the point of view of the manatees and pelicans whose instincts warn them of an impending disruption in their way of life. As they shelter themselves from the winds, the scene shifts to the human realm, where getting out of the path of the storm is the only possible response. When the full brunt of the hurricane makes landfall, we see lawn chairs and shutters flying through the air and sailboats smashing against their docks. But the natural world, once the ruckus has subsided, is quick to appreciate the benefits of the hurricane. As the humans sadly survey their damaged homes, the manatees, frogs, and various birds return to the mangrove swamp where life has been rejuvenated after this brief interruption—itself just a part of the order of things. In appendices Godkin explains how coastal Florida, protected in large part by its resilient mangrove swamps, has adapted to seasonal storms. Implicitly, hurricanes are a disaster only from the vantage of the less adaptive human population.
With equal artistry and attention to detail, The Day I Became a Canadian also scrutinizes the stages in a process. Young Xiao Ling Li wakes up in trepidation on the day she is to take her oath of Canadian citizenship, and she eagerly walks us through the necessary steps. Along with thirty-six people from thirteen different countries, she swears allegiance to her new homeland in front of a judge and receives a certificate of Canadian citizenship. When the ceremony is over, everyone joins in a rousing rendition of “O Canada.” Afterwards, sandwiches, cakes, and cookies are provided for the new citizens, but the liveliest party is arranged by themselves that evening, and they celebrate with delicacies from all the participants’ home countries. Though there is nothing sentimental in Bannatyne-Cugnet’s succinct and informative text, nor in the able illustrations of Song Nan Zhang, this book brought tears to my eyes. For Canadian-born children it will provide a glimpse of what many of their friends have experienced. For recent arrivals in Canada, it will be a reminder of an important commitment and, one hopes, a meaningful and happy experience.
- 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
- Truth and Convention by Lawrence Mathews
Books reviewed: Winter's Descent by Don Gutteridge, Everything but the Truth by Christopher McPherson, and dad says he saw you at the mall by Ken Sparling
- Recent Canadian Children's Books: The Sublime and the Ridiculous by Elizabeth Hodgson
Books reviewed: Baby Dreams by Eugenie Fernandes, Emma and the Coyote by Margiret Ruurs and Barbara Spurll, Matthew and the Midnight Hospital by Michael Martchenko and Allen Morgan, Flags by Paul Morin and Maxine Trottier, Vanilla Gorilla by Vivian Bevis and W. H. New, and The Ghouls' Night Out by Pamela Breeze Currie and Janice MacDonald
- 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
- Un dragon qui fait tomber la pluie by Jacqueline Viswanathan
Books reviewed: Fuego by Stephan Cloutier
MLA: Turner, Hilary. Reality is Nice, Too. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 24 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #205 (Summer 2010), Queerly Canadian. (pg. 165 - 166)
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