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1986 Notable Canadian Illustrated Children's Books

By Joan Weller

Volume 16 Number 1

THIS IS THE TEXT OF A speech presented as part of a panel on "Notable Canadian Materials" sponsored by Canadian Materials Editorial Advisory Board given at the CLA Conference in Vancouver, B.C., on June 14, 1987. Joan Weller was the 1987 Convenor of the Amelia Frances Howard Gibbon Committee.

"At the end of the day when buildings across the water light up like stars, children take some of the magic home with them."

This quotation from the conclusion of Who Hides in the Park? accompanies author-artist Warabe Aska's surrealistic illustration melding the realism of Vancouver harbour and skyline with the fanciful soaring of young children on the mauve-tinted wings of gulls.

Certainly, children touched by the magic of the Canadian picture book-scape of 1986 will take magic home with them.

It was an outstanding year for illustrated books in Canada with the appearance of picture books with child appeal and more sophisticated ones for older children. In preparation for the work of the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Committee this year I examined forty-one titles, narrowed down the eligible titles to nineteen of excellent quality, and finally with my committee, to ten outstanding books from which to choose a winner and runner-up.

The year 1986 saw some landmarks in the world of picture books. Here are some highlights!

We saw the establishing and awarding to Ann Blades of the first Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award for her lovely picture book, By the Sea. This award of money left for the award by the late Elizabeth Cleaver presented in conjunction with the Canadian Section of IBBY was given to Ann Blades at a celebration in the Children's Room of the Westmount Public Library, Montréal, in November 1986.

We saw Barbara Reid win the 1986 Toronto IODE Book Award and the Ruth Schwarz Children's Book Award for her illustrations in Have You Seen Birds? For the same illustrations she won the 1986 Canada Council Award for Illustration of an English-language book. Barbara Reid was also runner-up for the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Award.

We saw the publication by Toronto's Reference Press of an annotated bibliography of children's picture books entitled Canadian Picture Books/Livres d 'images canadiens. Compiled and edited by lane McQuarrie and Diane Dubois, the bibliography covers books published up to July 1985 for pre-school and primary-school children.

We honoured Marie-Louise Gay in 1987 with the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon medal for Moonbeam on a Cat's Ear.

Stephane Poulin won the 1986 Canada Council Award for Illustration of a French-language book for As-tu vu Josephine?

Exciting on the international scene was the nomination of Ken Nutt, Robin Muller, and Karen Patkau for the Ezra Jack Keats Award. I know from speaking to others involved with the award that Ken Nutt came very close to winning the award and that his work received very high praise indeed from Maurice Sendak, a member of the award committee. All three illustrators received silver medals last year as runners-up for this prestigious award.

Here are some interesting statistics:

French picture books: 36
French translations: 5
Total: 41

English picture books: 62
English translation: 0
Total: 62

Trilingual (Who Hides in the Park?): 1

Picture books published in 1986: 104

Now for a closer look at the top ten picture books for 1986. Many books dotting our 1986 picture-book-scape took on a rare beauty. Here are just some of the experiences our children enjoyed in this picture-book setting.

A park in all its natural beauty is bathed in the aura of Indian lore and fantasy in Warabe Aska's Who Hides in the Park? (Tundra), a sophisticated book for children older than the usual picture-book set. Mysteries of sea, land, and sky meet in downy, imaginative cloud formations and look down on children playing in the sand, climbing trees, and swinging and hiding in the forest. In heights of joyous, fanciful play children themselves are able to soar with the gulls and dance in spirit on lily pads.

A handsome, muscular Clydesdale shares his fears and loneliness with children in Lindee Climo's Clyde (Tundra). They see him magically transformed into a tractor, motorbike, a cheetah, a bird, an eagle, a fish, and a frog as he seeks an answer to his feelings of inadequacy. Seeing him return to his natural form, children finally share with him his joy at being loved for what he is -- a cherished farm animal to be kept for the children to ride.


Author-illustrator Dayal Khalsa invites children to sit under a weeping willow tree with her and her unusual grandmother. Here we may listen to her Tales of a Gambling Grandma (Tundra). And what a grandmother she is! There are surprises on every page. Children may go to a Chinese restaurant with her, or visit Coney Island or a vaudeville show. Above all, children may learn to play poker and win! One wonders if the young heroine was really sick or whether it was a welcome excuse to stay home and play straight poker, Chicago, or blackjack. With this story children may smile, grin, laugh and certainly cry with the author as she paints child-like pictures with touches of nostalgia for the adult reader in almost a folk-art tradition of grandma and her loving grandchild. And who can forget the feeling of pain when the little girl on learning of her grandmother's death calmly comments, "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," but then opened her closet door and stepped inside. . .and hugged and smelled all her grandma's great big dresses.

A garden planted in the spring grows before children's eyes -- and what a garden it is in One Watermelon Seed (Oxford), written by Celia Lottridge and illustrated by Karen Patkau. Counting certainly takes on a new challenge for them as they see one, two, three seeds lushly grow into thirty eggplants, forty peppers, fifty tomatoes, sixty blueberries and much more -- right up to one hundred ears of corn, and it's popping corn at that. Fresh, lively colours and collage work bring this unique garden to life.

From this blossoming garden children return to the inner city in talented artist Stephane Poulin's Have You Seen Josephine? (Tundra). Children haunt the streets and back alleys of East Montréal in hot pursuit of an errant kitty-cat. A merry chase it is for Daniel and his young readers as they follow him and spot Josephine -- perhaps even before he does in the artist's urban scapes.

From the heat of the city in summertime children are transported by artist Ann Blades to a reserve in northern B.C. in A Candle for Christmas (Douglas & McIntyre). Here they wait along with Tomas, the book's young hero, for his family as they battle a snowstorm in order to return from their cattle ranch in time for Christmas. With each illustration children share Tomas's waiting, hoping, and dreaming. In the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights and the special warmth symbolic of candle light they share his fears and final joy at the family reunion.

Further north again Ted Harrison beckons older children to the icy landscape of the Yukon in The Cremation of Sam McGee (Kids Can Press). Through the painting of this well-known artist and the union of illustration and text, a Canadian classic is reborn. children, see the dazzling northern lights; they feel the crisp arctic air. The poem's theme infused with droll humour is dramatically presented to a new generation in this union of illustration and verse.

Not to lose sight of the winter-time in our 1986 picture book-scape, children visit a zany zoo where they see the animals and birds dressed in their winter woolies in A Winter's Yarn (Red Deer College Press) illustrated by talented newcomer to children's picture books, artist Deborah Zagwyn.

And to fly with the birds is a wish come true in Barbara Reid's second picture book, Slave You Seen Birds? (North Winds Press a Division of Scholastic-TAB). Plasticine, that medium many of us rolled into snakes or at best rolled into a tiny snowman on rainy days in elementary school takes on forms so creative in their depiction of all kinds of birds that one looks again and again at the illustrations and marvels at their conception -- the colours, texture, perspective, depth and their special sense of movement and activity. Here is a picture book to stimulate the eye and to bring readers back many times to see more. In all their natural habitats birds of every kind in all our seasons are captured in amazingly original pictures. With gentle humour, too, the artist presents her birds not just to young readers and older readers but also to a little cat on the opening page who mysteriously disappears on the last page leaving his tail behind him. We can only ask ourselves the question that one little child asked on having the book read to her: "Is that cat going outside now to see the birds or to catch them?"

Finally, children fly in the moon-sailboat so beautifully created by award-winning artist-author Marie-Louise Gay in Moonbeam on a Cat's Ear (Stoddart). Here is the quintessential picture book where words and pictures are united -- words sonorous, rhythm lilting, cadence sleepily soothing -- pictures iridescent, colours of sea green with the blue of the sky mixed by the hand of a talented artist. The design of the book is unique with marginals which tell and tease the reader to see and look for more in the illustrations and text and whose broken borders help to move the action along towards its comforting and gently teasing ending. Who can forget that sleeping cat with the gentle smile or his tired-looking mouse companion. Tousled-haired Rosie and Toby with the bright red hair seem perfect playmates and friends of the '80s. Was it a dream, was it a fantasy? Was it real? Only the child can tell. Thank you Marie-Louise Gay, from all the children who will enjoy the sail through the sky and over the blue-green sea and will slumber off to their own dream world so lovingly introduced to them by you. Their sleep could only be gentle after hearing this tale at bedtime. From care-givers, too, a "THANKYOU" for providing them with the perfect goodnight book. For me, I don't know whether I would rather be cosily back home after the dream-sail, exhausted from the adventure as Toby and Rosie appear at the book's conclusion, or whether it would be fun to start all over again with the sleeping cat and mouse left on the new moon. No matter, this is a picture book to be read again and again for many years to come to our children and our children's children.

On that note I leave the 1986 picture-book-scape -- inviting you to enjoy it with our children.

Visit a fantastic park, a zany zoo, inspect a luxuriant garden, take time out to play poker with a remarkable grandma, travel to the cold Yukon or spend a hot summer day in Montréal, or back again by candle, travel to northern B.C. But, remember to look for birds and a familiar old horse and don't forget to look up at the sky at night -- the moon and a big white cat may be waiting to take you on a dream sail.

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