THE CHICKEN TREE AND OTHER FEVERS
Volume 21 Number 1
For her first book, Candace McNaughton-Stuart presents a collection of poems to appeal to children aged four to eight. Topics are eclectic: disliked veggies, puppy love (literal and figurative), homonyms, pollution, nonsense words, secrets, lemonade stands, dinosaurs, etc. There is nothing very memorable about any of this — no original word play, no really new ideas or innovative structures — but there is a childlike freshness about the work to which young readers will easily relate.
McNaughton-Stuart has a keen insight into the workings of the six-year-old mind and she manages to create convincing poetic representations of the world of childhood. For example, doesn't this sound like grade 2 talking?
And isn't it likely that your belly button would make a dandy holder for salt so you can lie in bed and eat celery late at night? And doesn't everybody sneak into the kitchen for peanut butter sandwiches at 4 a.m.? And isn't it fun to say "Bungee-Gungee" or "Confetti-Dunn-Dunn"?
I think the poem on environmental concerns — "The Story of Sammy, Smythe and Gertrude" — is the least successful because it's the author's voice we hear, not child's. The same is true of "Henry and Charlie," which is about youth and old age although the message here is sent out more artfully.
There is one poem that I find offensive. It's called "Just Because" and it describes a cannibal feast where hungry "natives" with "big bulging eyes" are "peeling smelly onions and sharpening their knives" in front of a boiling pot. References like this are surely in bad taste (no pun intended) at the end of the twentieth century.
It's a shame that McNaughton-Stuart us "lay" for "lie," although I suppose you'd bi hard pressed to find a child nowadays who see the mistake. And there's a typo on page 40 where "Lap" should be "Lab," referring a Labrador dog.
The illustrations are by Ryan Stuart, the author's young son. They are line drawings, zany, fanciful, childish and fun. A good team effort.
Not a first choice but a useful addition in the classroom for creative writing and poetry.
Maryleah Otto is a librarian in St. Thomas, Ontario, and author of four published books for children
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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