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CM Archive Book Review line

Lance Woolaver.
Drawings by Anna Gamble.

Halifax, Nimbus Publishing, c1982.
unpaged, paperbound boards, $5.95.
ISBN 0-920852-18-1.

Grades K-5.
Reviewed by Fran Newman.

Volume 11 Number 1.
1983 January.

Here is a book with such delightful illustrations that one anticipates a pleasurable reading experience. Alas, the writer has chosen a difficult rhyming and rhythm scheme and has detracted from the enjoyment of the two stories found in the book. The first, "The Boy Who Played the Guitar With His Feet," tells of an unnamed boy of untold age (eight to ten by the illustration) who lives for an untold reason in a packing box in an alley off a street of a seaside town. A lonely boy, he would often sing to himself as he played his guitar with his feet, his hands being too sore from the working with hooks along the docks that were a part of his life. One night, an old sea captain strayed into the alley and joined the boy in some tunes. The two became friends, and each time the captain would return from a voyage, he would bring the boy another model ship to add to the growing collection. After a bad storm, however, the captain did not come back. To honour his friend, the boy tied a candle to each mast of the fleet of tiny ships and sent them off into the ocean waves.

"The Little Girl With the Distant Dreams" tells of a similarly unnamed girl of a similar age who worked and lived in an old hotel owned by her aunt by the Point Prim Bell. With only a kitten for a friend, she lived in the round lonely tower room. The little girl often dreamed of what she would be: a writer, cook, teacher, storekeeper, but a meeting with the principal dancer of the City Ballet changed all that. One day while walking on the beach, she met the boy playing his guitar with his feet, and she danced for him. The two became friends and met there often. Then one day they decided it was time to leave. The girl would run away and become a dancer; the boy would sign on as a deckhand and perhaps they would meet again some day.

This is the stuff of dreamers indeed, and with the right lyrical language to accompany the delicate illustrations of beige touched with blue (on the covers), it could have been a book that children would treasure. In fact, many children will like the book, but the fact remains that the poetry in it has not been well-crafted, a fact that will bother many adults. The author has chosen a Robert Service type rhyme and rhythm scheme, but he is very careless with it. We read:

         He would sing to himself as he sat on
         his shelf
         Little tunes about being alone.
         Sometimes he would weep
         As he lay down to sleep
         On the floor of his packing box home.

But the inner rhyme of the first line is only maintained ten times in the first twenty-eight verses. Thus, we then read:

         A little boy lived in an old packing
         The little boy baited the trawl tubs of

and, even worse, the rhythm then can read:

         The little boy now is an older lad.
         The little boy followed their rolling

The rhymes are often awkward: boat: out, drowned:down, boat:oak, song: dawn, do:few, alone:home.

Children deserve to read and hear the best that language can offer and that is even more important when choosing the strictness of rhymed poetry. The illustrations are of such high quality that the standard of the words is more noticeable. The cover claims that this book is "captivating," and indeed, it had the potential to be. The flavour of the Maritimes is very evident. It would be interesting to see what this author and illustrator could do with prose.

Fran Newman, Spring Valley P. S., Brighton, ON.
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