Sui Generis

Reviewed by Hilary Turner

The humble reviewer prides herself on finding some sort of common ground among the assorted books assigned to her. In vain has she cudgeled her brain this time for a single thread—a tiny strand—with which to bind these volumes together. In vain did she challenge her erudite friends to find a common feature. Alas, the result is a review without a theme.
Poor Sara. She wants to go to the park, but Mom and Dad in Rachna Gilmore’s Catching Time are caught up in a whirlwind of Saturday chores—vacuuming, shopping, washing the car—and time is slipping away. Several prominent clocks attest to it, as does the car’s license plate, which reads T1C T0C. Sara gets control of her frustration by taking a metaphor literally: with effort and ingenuity, she finds Time and traps it in a jar. Time, in case you’ve never seen it, is a rotund gremlin with a clock on his belly. The expressive water colours of Kirsti Anne Wakelin add energy to this simple and comforting story. With time in hand, so to speak, the family ends the day playing in the park.

A pictorial history of Ontario with accompanying haikus sounds farfetched, but Sarah Harvey and Leslie Buffam make this odd combination work, adding gentle, reflective commentary to the panoramic illustrations of Kasia Charko. The story begins before the Europeans have arrived, and takes us through the years of the fur trade, the building of locks and railways—interspersed with glimpses of the lumber and mining industries, war work in a factory, the Maple Leafs, and Caribana. The short poems open up the scenes before us, each one of which is rich in interesting details. Great Lakes and Rugged Ground is a book designed to be pored over and talked about. Very young children will be captivated by the colour and movement of the pictures; older ones will have questions about the historical significance of the people, places, vessels, and machines they portray. A list of things to “seek and find” and a series of explanatory notes make it easy to get the most out of each historical freeze frame.

Equally informative, yet more lighthearted is Fishing with Gubby, an inventive blend of comic book (or possibly graphic novel) and conventional picture book. Gubby makes his living fishing for salmon in the straits off Vancouver Island, and the story follows him and his cat Puss for a season as they move the troller Flounder up and down the coast. Kim La Fave and Gary Kent impart information with humour and charm, and their illustrations convey with equal facility the intricate details of the craft of fishing and the wide vistas that surround the characters. The format is flexible enough, in other words, to contain a labelled cross-section of the Flounder, and to encompass the complicated tangle of fishing crafts at the mouth of the Fraser just as the sockeye run is beginning. Gubby’s dry humour and the amusing body language of Puss make us care about these characters throughout their brief adventure.

The Nightwood adds another title to the impressive bibliography of writer and illustrator Robin Muller. The story, a retelling of a Celtic legend, is set in the strangely shifting space between the commonsensical daylight world of duty, and the shimmering nocturnal space of freedom and love. When the Earl of March’s daughter, Elaine, defies orders and ventures into the territory of the Elfin Queen, she meets her true love, an enchanted captive named Tamlynne. Yearning across the boundary of the human and the elvin, Elaine grows pale and thin. Eventually, her love for Tamlynne is pitted against the obduracy of the Queen, and, as in many fairy tales, Elaine’s resources are painfully tested. Muller’s illustrations show the longings and the conflicts of the characters in a style that is both gothic and realistic. This is a well rendered fairy tale for speculative children.

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