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Best of 1994

The Pick of the Fall Season in Canada

by Virginia Davis

Volume 22 Number 6
1994 November/December

Picture-books, short stories, fantasy, non-fiction, and more recommended by Virginia Davis, this year's Claude Aubry award winner

The Fall 1994 publishing season contains exceptional new picturebooks, admirable fiction for pre-teen and teen readers, and nonfiction exploring challenging questions in the political, social and scientific arenas. The short story finds favoured place again, and a cluster of important books are now available in paperback.

Picture books

Warabé Aska shares his imaginative world with us again in Aska's Sea Creatures, a brilliant companion to Aska's Birds and Aska's Animals. Barbara Reid's Plasticine art gives added verve to Jo Ellen Bogart's lively poem in Gifts.

A direct contrast in tone is Celia Barker Lottridge's Something Might Be Hiding, illustrated by Paul Zwolak. A young girl's unease in the strangeness of a new home spurs her to believe "something might be hiding." She and her family find nothing--until she herself follows a mysterious humming to its source. The ending that hints of an uncertain--if not, perhaps, dangerous --future is similar to Ian Wallace's visual warning at the end of his retelling of "Hansel and Gretel" that evil never completely dies.

Wallace has moved the setting for Hansel and Gretel, one of the best-known German tales, to an Atlantic seacoast village and the time to just-about-now. He created the darkness he desired for a dark tale by drawing in pastel pencil on black Lana Balkis paper. The result is an unremitting sense of night. The witch's famous gingerbread house receives one of its most interesting interpretations ever in this memorable edition.

Ian Wallace's darker side was piqued yet again when he agreed, along with fifteen other illustrators, to provide visual interpretation for a nursery rhyme for Mother Goose: A Canadian Sampler. He used the same pencil-on-black technique to illustrate "Three Blind Mice." All of the illustrators in the collection chose the rhymes they illustrated. Because they have all donated their talent, proceeds from the sale of Mother Goose go to the Parent-Child Mother Goose Program that teaches parents how to sing and say rhymes to their babies. The program is active in four locations in Toronto and is just starting in Edmonton (see address at the end of this article).

Total zaniness characterizes Patti Stren's come-back title, For Sale: One Brother (remember Stren's Hug Me and Blythe Danner's wonderful recording?). All those get-out-of-my-life attitudes that a firstborn can have for a sibling exist in this sister who determines that younger brother David must go. She puts creative signs up all over the neighbourhood. The pages are alive with Stren's zippy images, and this is a feast for those who appreciate visual humour.

The striking, lyrical text of Josepha: A Prairie Boy's Story alerts us to an important new talent in author Jim McGugan. Josepha's loneliness as an older boy in the primary row because he can't conquer English will resonate with new immigrants. The capacity of the lad for caring and friendship make him memorable. Eye-capturing choices in perspective and echoes of the styles of Edward Hopper, Thomas Hart Benton and Winslow Homer (in the handling of light) make Murray Kimber's illustrations useful to any visual arts program.

Aska, Warabé. Aska's Sea Creatures. Doubleday Canada, 1994. ISBN 0385321074.

Bogart, Jo Ellen. Gifts. Illustrated by Barbara Reid. North Winds Press, 1994. ISBN 059024177X. Distributed by Scholastic Canada.

Lottridge, Celia Barker. Something Might Be Hiding. Illustrated by Paul Zwolak. Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 1994. ISBN 0888991762.

McGugan, Jim. Josepha: A Prairie Boy's Story. Illustrated by Murray Kimber. Red Deer College Press, 1994. ISBN 0889951012. Distributed by Raincoast Books.

Mother Goose: A Canadian Sampler. Illustrated by Simon Ng, et al. Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 1994. ISBN 0888992130.

Stren, Patti. For Sale: One Brother. Scholastic Canada, 1994. ISBN 0590749234.

Wallace, Ian. Hansel and Gretel. Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 1994. ISBN 0888992122.

Also not to be missed: Bouchard, David. The Colours of British Columbia. Illustrated by Michael Tickner. Raincoast Books, 1994. ISBN 1895714524.

Fiction novels

For older readers, new novels range from the fairly easy to the more complex, yet none is as challenging as earlier titles from these authors have been.

Ken Roberts' Past Tense has a passage that serves as an apt introduction. Uncle Chuck, who holds equal sway with Max as a central character, remembers his brother (Max's father), who died young: "Max taught me that life is not life unless there are new stories to tell. We all need to know that something unusual might happen today or tomorrow, something we can tell people." Giving someone in the face of death a story to tell is at the core of Past Tense, less light-hearted than Roberts' earlier novels but still charged with humour and a steady beat.

Also easy to read is Claire Mowat's French Isles, a sequel to The Girl from Away. Andrea gets a second opportunity to spend time with Newfoundland relatives while her mother and new husband teach in Sierra Leone. Andrea is crew with her cousin when her uncle's new trawler goes astray in fog. Suddenly, they are apprehended and accused of illegal fishing by the police of St. Pierre! Happily for Andrea, their troubles lead to opportunities for her: the chance to stay in the bed and breakfast run by a cousin and provide translation and maid service for the rest of the season. Mowat ably weaves bilingual conversation into the narrative and easily incorporates details of the culture and the geography of both St. Pierre and Miquelon.

Sarah Ellis tantalizes with Out of the Blue. Nearly teenage Megan experiences degrees of anger after learning "out of the blue" that her mother not only had a child out of wedlock but also has recently contacted this older daughter. A blue-glass Japanese fishing-net weight becomes a talisman as Megan works through the anger to reconciliation with her mother. Ellis' accomplished style supports thoughtful examination of a complex family situation.

William Bell's Speak to the Earth also explores anger at a parent. Bryan Trupe moves, after his dad's death, with his mom to a B.C. coastal village where, among other things, they run a bed and breakfast. Bryan's mother becomes an activist against indiscriminate logging. Bryan starts to experience internal conflict-- and it worsens when she lands in jail. The situation is complicated by his suspicions of the two men who are renting space in the B&B during the demonstrations. Ultimately, Bell leads his character through an interesting self-examination and determination of new values.

Cowboys Don't Quit is the next phase for Shane, the troubled protagonist of Cowboys Don't Cry. When Shane's dad does not return from a business trip, Shane is hit with his still-simmering distrust of his father, whom he holds responsible for the accident that killed his mother. Shane determines to find his father, and the trip brings renewed grief and finally relief when he discovers that his dad has not gone on a drunken rampage--but indeed has been in real trouble. Prove to yourself how good Marilyn Halvorson, the author of Cowboys Don't Quit, is by this exercise: read Halvorson's Dare and S.E. Hinton's Taming the Star Runner together. Plot and characters just happen to be strikingly similar. Which is the better novel?

The prairie is potent setting in Cora Taylor's Summer of the Mad Monk, which takes place nearly seventy years earlier than Cowboys Don't Quit. During tough Depression years in Alberta, young Pip is beguiled for a time by the notion that the new blacksmith in town-- bearded, Russian--is in fact Rasputin, escaped from the turmoil in Russia. This novel readily links to any study of World War I and the Russian Revolution.

Bell, William. Speak to the Earth. Doubleday Canada, 1994. ISBN 0385254873.

Ellis, Sarah. Out of the Blue. Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 1994. ISBN 0888992157.

Halvorson, Marilyn. Cowboys Don't Quit. Stoddart Publishing, 1994. ISBN 077367425X. Distributed by General Distribution Services.

Mowat, Claire. The French Isles. Key Porter Books, 1994. ISBN 1550135910.

Roberts, Ken. Past Tense. Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 1994. ISBN 0888992149.

Taylor, Cora. Summer of the Mad Monk. Greystone Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 1994. ISBN 1550541749.

Exceptional Fantasy/Time Travel

Time Ghost by Welwyn Wilton Katz is fantasy, incorporates time travel, and can be called science fiction as well, since its essential premise is an extension of scientific thinking. The premise? Since all time zones meet at the North Pole, the Pole is a place of no real time --or it's all times at once. If one were at the North Pole when time travel was activated, one could theoretically travel through time to any moment in time.

The creator of the theory does not anticipate another possibility that occurs when the two young heroines are tossed back in time: one of them enters the body of a past-time host; the other, ghostlike, can observe. Being inside another person means being able to speak only if the host is asleep, being able to see only if the host's eyes are open, and being able to move only if the host can be willed to move. This time-traveller/host relationship, the rapidly moving plot, and the discovery of what one generation can teach another all make this novel compelling.

Michael Bedard's Painted Devil is a sequel to A Darker Magic, his first novel (now in paperback). In a small Ontario town, the cycle of time allows again a window for the emergence of evil incarnate. This time it's the public library and an historic puppet collection that harbour the powers of darkness. Bedard's elegant style is a pleasure, and his work can be placed next to that of Margaret Mahy and Vivian Alcock, two other authors fascinated by the possibility that dark forces can co-exist with seemingly ordinary twentieth century suburban life. These three authors are admirable creators of what might be called "horror fiction."

Bedard, Michael. Painted Devil. Lester Publishing, 1994. ISBN 1895555485.

Katz, Welwyn Wilton. Time Ghost. Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 1994. ISBN 0888992165.

Short Stories

In that most demanding of fictional forms--the short story--four practitioners will, one hopes, restore the story to "must read" status.

R.P. MacIntyre's first novel Yuletide Blues received strong reviews. The Blue Camaro, a short story collection, proves he creates believable teen voices and can drive a plot. This collection uses the device of interlinked characters--with the same plot reflected from two perspectives--and that alone makes reading the whole definitely worthwhile.

Tim Wynne-Jones, in his prize-winning Some of the Kinder Planets and now The Book of Changes, proves his skill with authentic voice, strong plot, and delicious humour. For grades 2 to 3, Teddy Jam offers The Charlotte Stories, three stories featuring strong-willed Charlotte, who's not afraid to save a mouse or hang upside-down on a bar even though it may "turn her brain backwards." This is one of a group of new books Groundwood Books is developing for the early reader.

Cordelia Clark reveals that Budge Wilson writes for adults. As with The Leaving and The Courtship, the stories in Cordelia Clark will find a younger audience. Wilson's richness of character and directness of structure give her stories universality.

Twenty-one of Canada's short story creators peer into the unseen world in a collection so named: The Unseen: Scary Stories selected by Janet Lunn. Tales of hauntings by real people, short folktales inspired by real incidents, and original tales offer mild titillation to full gasp. Don't miss the dedication and don't miss Brian Doyle's "Carrot Cake" for Psycho-inspired chill.

Jam, Teddy. The Charlotte Stories. Illustrated by Harvey Chan. Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 1994. ISBN 0888992106.

MacIntyre, R.P. The Blue Camaro. Thistledown Press, 1994. ISBN 1895449235.

The Unseen: Scary Stories. Selected by Janet Lunn. Lester Publishing, 1994. ISBN 1895555426.

Wilson, Budge. Cordelia Clark. Stoddart Publishing, 1994. ISBN 0773674233. Distributed by General Distribution Services.

Wynne-Jones, Tim. The Book of Changes. Groundwood Book/Douglas & McIntyre, 1994. ISBN 0888992238.

Also not to be missed: Gallant, Mavis. Across the Bridge. McClelland & Stewart, 1994. ISBN 0771033079.

Morgan, Allen. Celebrate the Season: Fall. Illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka. Oasis Press, 1994. ISBN 1895092043.

Munro, Alice. Open Secrets. McClelland & Stewart, 1994. ISBN 0771066996.

Next Teller: A Book of Canadian Storytelling. Collected by Dan Yashinsky. Ragweed Press, 1994. ISBN 0921556462. Distributed by General Distribution Services.


Canada has two of the finest science writers in North America--Jay Ingram and Terence Dickinson.

Ingram's ability to add drama to science is evident in his new books about the brain. A Kid's Guide to the Brain is just that--and peppered with practical experiments. Sylvia Funston, former editor-in-chief of OWL and Chickadee, is co-author.

Extraterrestrials: A Field Guide for Earthlings is the book Terence Dickinson would have loved to read when he was twelve, as he reported in a CBC interview. Stunning, highly realistic art by Arnold Schaller gives visual interpretation to Dickinson's exploration of how higher life forms from "out there" might be equipped for the familiar five senses and several additional ones: magnetic field detection, sonar, and non-optical radiation. Dickinson reviews what we know about conditions for life and extrapolates with good science for other potential planetary environments.

Among other non-fiction this Fall is the pioneer book that educators have been requesting for years. A Pioneer Story by Barbara Greenwood stars the Robertsons, a fictional family living on a backwoods farm in eastern Canada in 1840. The text intermixes fictional accounts of daily events with short factual essays. How-to-do-it directions for pursuing many of the Robertsons' activities abound. Heather Collins' detailed art creates the sense of "being there."

In biography, there are two important additions. Karen Kain: Movement Never Lies is almost as beautiful as its subject. The work that will no doubt be the definitive one for Robertson Davies is Robertson Davies: Man of Myth by Judith Skelton Grant, exhaustively researched but not lacking liveliness in style. Davies also has his latest novel in release this Fall. The Cunning Man has narrative linkages with his earlier Fifth Business.

Finally, to become better acquainted with many of the creative talents mentioned here, there are two useful new biography collections. Meet Canadian Authors and Illustrators by Allison Gertridge is identical in format to an earlier title from Scholastic that included only a few Canadians, Meet the Authors and Illustrators by Deborah Kovacs and James Preller. The Canadian Society for Authors, Illustrators, and Performers (CANSCAIP) has a new Canscaip Companion, edited by Barbara Greenwood. It provides biographical profiles and portraits of 366 of our leading men and women creating for children.

The Canscaip Companion. Edited by Barbara Greenwood. 2d ed. Pembroke Publishers, 1994. ISBN 1551380218.

Davies, Robertson. The Cunning Man. McClelland & Stewart, 1994. ISBN 0771025815.

Dickinson, Terence and Adolf Schaller. Extraterrestrials: A Field Guide for Earthlings. Camden House, 1994. ISBN 0921820879 (paper), ISBN 0921820860 (library binding). Distributed by Firefly Books.

Funston, Sylvia and Jay Ingram. A Kid's Guide to the Brain. Greey de Pencier/ Books from OWL, 1994. ISBN 1895688191 (paper), ISBN 1895688221 (library binding). Distributed by Firefly Books.

Gertridge, Allison. Meet Canadian Authors and Illustrators. Scholastic Canada, 1994. ISBN 0590243195.

Grant, Judith Skelton. Robertson Davies: Man of Myth. Viking Canada, 1994. ISBN 0670825573. Distributed by Penguin Books Canada.

Greenwood, Barbara. A Pioneer Story. Illustrated by Heather Collins. Kids Can Press, 1994. ISBN 155074237X (cloth), ISBN 1550741284 (paper).

Kain, Karen with Stephen Godfrey and Penelope Reed Doob. Karen Kain: Movement Never Lies: An Autobiography. McClelland & Stewart, 1994. ISBN 0771023200.

Also not to be missed: Bissoondath, Neil. Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multculturalism in Canada. Penguin Canada, 1994. ISBN 0140238786. Distributed by Penguin Books Canada.

Bondar, Roberta. Touching the Earth. Key Porter Books, 1994. ISBN 1550135759.

Clark, Joe. A Nation Too Good to Lose. Key Porter Books, 1994. ISBN 1550136038.

Ingram, Jay. The Burning House: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Brain. Viking Canada, 1994. ISBN 0670849871.

Milton, Steve. Super Skaters: World Figure Skating Stars. Key Porter Books, 1994. ISBN 1550135872.

Stern, Bonnie. Simply Heartsmart Cooking. Random House, 1994. ISBN 0394224019.

Now in paper

Titles that are assured to be potential for class sets are now in paper. Celia Barker Lottridge's Ticket to Curlew, a Canadian pioneer novel suitable for grades 4 and up, is also an excellent read-aloud for younger students. Barbara Smucker's Garth and the Mermaid supports any medieval study. The Lights Go On Again, the third title in Kit Pearson's World War II trilogy that began with The Sky is Falling, is now in paper. Two notable picture-books now in paper are Phoebe Gilman's Something from Nothing and Paul Yee's Roses Sing on New Snow.

Gilman, Phoebe. Something from Nothing. North Winds Press, 1992. ISBN 0590745573. Distributed by Scholastic Canada.

Lottridge, Celia Barker. Ticket to Curlew. Groundwood Books/ Douglas & McIntyre, 1992. ISBN 0888992211.

Pearson, Kit. The Lights Go On Again. Penguin Books, 1993. ISBN 0140364129. Distributed by Penguin Books Canada.

Smucker, Barbara. Garth and the Mermaid. Penguin Books, 1992. ISBN 0140361685. Distributed by Penguin Books Canada.

Yee, Paul. Roses Sing on New Snow: A Delicious Tale. Illustrated by Harvey Chan. Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 1991. ISBN 088992173.

Have a Happy New Year exploring these exciting titles!

Virginia Davis is Consultant, Collection Development, with National Book Service in Mississauga, Ontario, a former convener of the CM Editorial Board, and past president of the Canadian Association of Children's Librarians.

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