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Lewis, Jackie O
Illustrated by Cindy Crew Waterloo (Ont.), Penumbra Press, 1991. 24pp, paper, $9.95, ISBN 0-921254-326.

Kindergarten to Grade 3 /Ages 5 to 8

Reviewed by Barbara Camfield

Volume 20 Number 5
1992 October

For adult readers there is something very peculiar about this children's book. The peculiarity centres on the disparity between the text and the style of the illustrations. The story, the first in a proposed series from Hastings County, Ontario, is a child's discovery of a snake stuck in the chicken wire fence near her house, and her mother's successful freeing of the reptile. The Eastern Hognose Snake or "Puff Adder," quite rare now in Ontario, is a great bluffer. When in danger it hisses loudly and spreads its neck like a cobra. The heroine learns that despite this frightening display the snake is actually completely harmless.

The story would lead the reader to expect illustrations of rural south-central Ontario, since this is the snake's natural habitat. However, the illustrations suggest a melange of cultures: South American faces, Navaho blankets and West Coast native symbolism. The mother, who bravely frees the snake by clipping the wire fence, has Peruvian features and costume, yet the story takes place in Coe Hill, Ontario.

The message for today's reader is undoubtedly important: these snakes are not poisonous, and play a role in the ecosystem. Ironically, the characters in the story should just have left the snake alone. It would then have deflated itself to normal size and slipped away without human intervention. The pretext on which the story is built is very flimsy, and the mother, whose role is most significant, is portrayed as timid and frightened by the harmless snake.

A second-rate story with a message about environmental protection written for children ages five to eight.

Very optional purchase.

Barbara Camfield is Chief of the Reference and Information Services Division at the National Library of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario

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