CM February 9, 1996. Vol II, Number 17

Table of Contents

Book Reviews

INTWhat Faust Saw.
Written and illustrated by Matt Ottley.
Review by Diane Fitzgerald.
Preschool - Grade 2 / Ages 2 - 6.

CDNFlikka and the Prince Edward Island Mystery.
Hazel Birt.
Review by Donna J. Adrian.
Grades 3 - 8 / Ages 8 - 14.

CDN A Time to Choose.
Martha Attema.
Review by Michele F. Kallio.
Grades 7 and Up / Ages 11 and Up.

CDNThe Children of China:
An Artist's Journey.
Song Nan Zhang.
Review by Donna J. Adrian.
Grades 7 and Up / Ages 12 and Up.

CDNCriminal acts 1:
the Canadian true crime annual..
Allan Gould.
Review by Neil V. Payne.
Grades 9 - 13 / Ages 13 - Adult.

CDN Writing a Life: L.M. Montgomery.
Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston.
Review by Deborah Mervold.
Grades 9 and Up / Ages 14 and Up.

Ellen Frith.
Review by Pat Bolger.
Grades 10 and Up / Ages 14 and Up.


 Notable Web Sites

 Collaborative Book Review Project

 The Great Canadian Trivia Contest

 The Little Math Puzzle

News: Manitoba

 Manitoba Young Reader's Choice Award Luncheon

From the Editor

This issue marks the beginning of CM's expanded coverage; in addition to continuing to attempt to review Canadian materials comprehensively, we are adding reviews of international titles.

There are a few reasons for the change. From a readership perspective, Canadian schools and libraries must make purchase decisions about international as well as domestic titles, but CM was only presenting one part of the story. We also have a growing international readership.

And from a publishing perspective, many Canadian publishing houses also act as distributors for foreign titles -- it doesn't make sense to tell them that they can market some of their books to CM but not others.

There are two important things to note about how we're doing this. First, international titles will be marked off in the Table of Contents with this: INT

At the same time, Canadian titles will be, uh, flagged with: CDN

So there'll never be a confusion about whether a title is foreign or domestic. Second, we're not cutting back on Canadian reviews, just adding international coverage as well. We won't drop below six Canadian titles a week, and we'll never have more than 40% international content.

Finally, let me say that our first international title, What Faust Saw, from Australia's Hodder Children's books, was one of the best picture books of 1995. It's a pleasure to be able to present a review of it in CM.

If you have any comments or questions, just send e-mail to the address beneath my name.

-- Duncan Thornton

Book Review

What Faust Saw.

Written and Illustrated by Matt Ottley.
Rydalmere, NSW, Australia: Hodder, 1995. 32pp, cloth, $19.95.
Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books.
ISBN 0-77336-0096-4.

Preschool - Grade 2 / Ages 2 - 6.
Review by Diane Fitzgerald.


One night Faust woke up, looked out the window and . . . saw something very strange. He tried to wake up Mum . . . and Isabelle . . . and Clayton . . . even Dad. But they didn't seem to want to WAKE UP.

What Faust Saw is Australian writer, illustrator, and composer Matt Ottley's second picture book. Faust is a large hound dog who wakes up at night to see invaders from outer space land and start to creep about town. The invaders are truly, inventively, alien -- a mix-up of plants, dinosaurs, bugs, and pretty much everything else -- and comic rather than frightening or bizarre.

Good dog that he is, Faust tries to wake his masters -- he brushes his ears on their faces, sits on their heads, licks their feet, even pulls the covers off the bed. Nothing works until Faust begins howling in terror.

But waking the family just makes things worse, because the invaders hide whenever anyone but Faust is looking. Children will be amused by the illustrations that clearly show the huge aliens -- some as large as a brontosaurus -- hiding behind fences, hedges, even other houses, while Dad, out on the lawn in his pyjamas, looks in all the wrong directions. Fed up with Faust's seemingly irrational behaviour, his family puts him outside for the night. Where the aliens are.

Faust decides to run away ("Then they'd be sorry"), but the aliens pursue him until he finally turns and barks at the them to "Go away!" The aliens are taken aback, but Faust's bark is so loud that it attracts the attention of the dog-catcher, who impounds him, where he is, at least, safe for the night. . . .

In the morning when his family comes to get him, "Faust decided to forgive them and go home. He also decided that the next time he woke up and saw something strange . . . he would go back to sleep."

Children, so often unable to communicate their reality to adults, will enjoy identifying with Faust. And any child fond of animals will appreciate the illustrations; Faust is not only an excellent comic character but a very well-observed dog.

Ottley's aliens are just as well done -- weird enough to show why they would alarm Faust, but appealing and funny in their own right. The illustrations in general (done as oil-paintings) are full of comic detail that will continue to give even very young children pleasure for many readings. And the type twists playfully over the pages, shrinking and growing to match Faust's alarms and frustrations.

Highly recommended.

Diane Fitzgerald is an elementary-school teacher in Saskatoon.

Book Review

Flikka and the Prince Edward Island Mystery.

Hazel Birt.
Winnipeg: Hazlyn Press, 1995. 150pp, paper, $12.95.
ISBN 0-969-3024-7-9.

Grades 3 - 8 / Ages 8 - 14.
Review by Donna J. Adrian.

While exploring the woods near her Aunt Sanna's home in Prince Edward Island, her Aunt's cat brings eleven-year-old Flikka a ruby and diamond necklace. Flikka and her new friend Jay Dee return the necklace to its owner. She tells the friends that her father had buried the family jewels and that they had never been found.

In searching through the family mansion, the children find a map and the hunt is on. A frightening "Dark Stranger" keeps watch on their activity until Flikka draws his picture for the police and he is identified. With the cat as their saviour, the children find the treasure and return it.

Despite the superb accompanying pen-and-ink drawings, the story is episodic and predictable. There are several chapters that add local colour -- emphasizing that the setting is real -- but do little to advance the plot. And Birt's use of dialect is irritating.

But a far more serious defect appears early on:

"Aunt Sanna! Aunt Sanna!" cried Flikka hurrying around the side of the school, "Did you see that? Did you see how that dark stranger stared at me?"
"Who stared? Where?" Bewildered, Aunt Sanna looked up from cleaning her brushes on an old paint rag.
"It was a man riding a bike. A stranger. He looked half-mad!"
"Now, now Flikka, we get a lot of bikers going through here on their way to the Magdelene Island Ferry. Often they are French people. Did he look French?"

Does the author truly mean that French people can be identified by looks? Or that French people, (or bikers) regularly seem half-mad? I truly hope not.


Not recommended.

Donna J. Adrian is a Library Coordinator for the Laurenval School Board in Quebec.

Book Review

A Time to Choose.

Martha Attema.
Victoria: Orca Book Publishers, 1995. 166pp, paper, $7.95.
ISBN 1-55143-045-2.

Grades 7 and Up / Ages 11 and Up.
Review by Michele F. Kallio.


At that time it hadn't bothered Johannes that his father was a member of the National Socialist Movement, the only political party allowed under German occupation. Modelled after the German Nazi party, the organization was run by Dutch ministers, but was completely under German control. At first many believed that a better economy would solve the country's problems. As a result, most farmers became members of the National Socialist Movement. There were real benefits. The Germans paid good money for dairy and grain products. Uncle Jan, father's oldest brother always said, "Hitler pays more for our products than the Queen ever did." Uncle Jan was a faithful party member.
But as time passed and the war showed no signs of ending, people began to realize that the Germans were not always that reliable. For one thing, they paid with money that was worthless. Now, the benefits were not so clear. Many farmers terminated their membership in the movement.
Johannes wished his father had given up his membership and joined the resistance. At first he hadn't seen his father as a traitor. But in the last two years Johannes had begun to worry. More and more people were working in the resistance. Now he often wondered if his father was an informer.

Attema's first novel for young people -- the story of sixteen-year-old Johannes van der Meer's coming of age in the last years of World War II -- is an excellent read. Attema evokes the Netherlands of her childhood with vivid descriptions of farm life in Friesland province.

Readers are drawn into Johannes's uncertainty over how to prove himself to friends and neighbours. When his best friend joins the Dutch resistance, Johannes has a chance to prove his loyalty. Torn between love of country and love for his father, 1944 is indeed a "time to choose" for Johannes.

The story's mood and flow are consistent throughout. A glossary is included to explain special terms and aid in pronouncing names. The attractive lay-out and the well-designed cover illustration (of Johannes overhearing his father talking with a German officer) are appealing, and may pique the interest of some who might not ordinarily read a book on this subject.

A Time to Choose will be an excellent resource for studies concerning Canadian participation in the liberation of the Netherlands in 1944-45.

While the book is intended for ages eleven to fourteen, it will appeal to older readers as well.


Michele F. Kallio is a former teacher/librarian living in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick.

Book Review

The Children of China:
An Artist's Journey.

Song Nan Zhang.
Montreal: Tundra Books, 1995. 32pp, cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 0-88776-363-4. CIP.

Grades 7 and Up / Ages 12 and Up.
Review by Donna J. Adrian.

Song Nan Zhang, a former art professor at the Central Institute of Fine Arts in Beijing, survived the repressive grey society and "re-education" of Mao Tse-Tung's cultural revolution by dreaming of the freedom of the nomadic people of China and their colourful costumes. When freed, he travelled the Silk Road of China and visited these peoples, absorbing the colour and glow of the children, sketching and photographing them, and then re-creating their lives in these fifteen beautiful paintings.

This personal journey combines the past with the present, and evokes the joy of childhood, the daily life of the young nomads, their colourful clothing, and their freedom. The first and last pictures in the book are of Zhang's son -- taking his first steps in front of the Sun Temple Park, and on his father's shoulders, looking triumphantly at the world. Between are drawings of nomadic children, and their families: riding, playing, dreaming, tending animals -- each one reflecting freedom and acceptance of life.

The backgrounds of the paintings reflect the decorative world of the Orient -- its colour, patterns, and costumes. They combine nature, people, clothing, history, and tradition. The paintings are realistic, balanced, and full of intricate detail. Each season of the year is represented, along with home life and festivals. Faces and activities are as common and as different as people and nationalities are.

Some paintings are as delicate as impressionist art, others exotic and oriental. Animals in the paintings are worthy of a Bateman.

The accompanying text is effective story, which enhances the paintings, explaining the background of the painting and the people.

The book can be used for art, for history, and for social life and customs of China.


Highly recommended

Donna J. Adrian is a Library Coordinator for the Laurenval School Board in Quebec.

Book Review

Criminal acts 1:
the Canadian true crime annual.

Allan Gould.
Toronto: Macmillan, 1994. 199pp, paper, $14.95.
ISBN 0-7715-9068-7. No CIP.

Grades 10 - 13 / Ages 14 and Up.
Review by Neil V. Payne.


Vancouver, January


It was all a set-up. Parminder Chana got a phone call in his car at 9:00 p.m. from a friend, saying he had to see the man right away, and they should meet at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia salvage yard in New Westminster, where the twenty-one-year-old worked as a night security guard.

When Chana got to the yard, he was wrestled to the ground and stabbed, and the following morning his body was found floating in a ditch nearby. His throat slit, his fingers amputated and his body stabbed fifty-three times.
Four days later, Chana's seventeen-year-old girlfriend, Jassy Benji, jumped to her death from the Pattullo Bridge, leaving a suicide note that read: "When Parmar died, I died."
In the trial, the court learned that Jassy's brother, Rajinder, had killed Chana because he frowned on his sister dating the man. Faisel Ali Dean was convicted of second-degree murder after his girlfriend admitted that he had bragged to her about holding Chana down while Rajinder Benji stabbed him. Faisel was expected to be sentenced in February.

Gould has set himself the task "to try to capture a year of Crime and Justice in Canada." This is a large job that could provide a valuable source of information for both interested readers and students studying a wide range of related topics.

The author collected his information from a systematic reading of Canadian newspapers, then distilled the data into a brief chronological account of each case.

The book itself is organised chronologically, with each case assigned to the date it came to the author's attention -- in some cases the date of the crime, in others the date of an arrest; in some the trial date, or the date of a trial judgement. Each case, once started, is reported to its completion before another is started.

Interspersed on the pages, with no apparent organization, are occasional boxes of interesting information about Canadian law, public opinion, survey results, statistics, and so on.

The book is written in a breezy, fast-paced style that makes interesting light reading -- like a supermarket tabloids. Criminal acts 1 is certainly entertaining, but anyone hoping to use it as a source of reliable information will be totally frustrated.

There is an endless stream of facts, statistics, and quotations in this book, yet nowhere is any source cited. The "tens of thousands of newspapers'' searched for information all remain nameless. Surveys, studies, and sources of statistics presented, if identified at all, are vaguely attributed to "an Angus Reid poll," "a Statistics Canada release," or "according to Canada-wide studies."

There is no index provided to names of the accused or the victims, the type of crime, categories of statistics, or anything else. Readers searching for a particular case must scan every page to find the relevant sections.

Criminal acts 1 is replete with unsubstantiated opinion, editorializing, and emotional catch-phrases. And since the sources are not cited the reader has no way to evaluate whether the account is complete, fair, or even truthful.

Karla Homolka graces the cover in living colour beside a brilliant yellow upper right corner that promises the book "chronicles the Homolka/Bernardo case." That was no doubt good for sales, but it fails to mention that coverage of the case only goes as far as Karla's conviction and the media ban.

The idea of Criminal acts is a good one, and the book could have provided a valuable summary of crime and justice in Canada, a starting point for many essays and assignments, or a quick reference to the basic facts of any case or issue in Canadian law. With solid research, factual rather than opinion-based reporting, careful citing of sources, and an extensive index, this could have filled a very real gap in the information available in this area of vital concern.

Unfortunately, in its present form, if it were a Grade 10 assignment, it would earn a "D" and the comment, "this assignment is poorly organized and incomplete -- I know you can do much better."

Not recommended.

Neil V. Payne is a teacher-librarian at Kingston Collegiate in Kingston Ontario.

Book Review

Writing a Life: L.M. Montgomery.

Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston.
Toronto: ECW Press, 1995. 135 pp. paper, $14.95.
ISBN 1-55022-220-1.

Grades 9 and Up / Ages 14 and Up.
Review by Deborah Mervold.


If her novels contain hidden rebellion, her journals pulse with open resistance, resentment, and depression at the structures of daily life that caught her ambition in cobwebs. She felt trapped in her marriage, confined by motherhood, and bound by the need to present a smiling face of domestic happiness in accord with the romantic novels she was producing. She was fettered by her own popularity and by the need to maintain her success in order to supplement her husband's income as a poorly paid country parson. And she was caught, perhaps unawares, in another trap; her own facility in creating narratives. To keep her secret journal going, she unconsciously adapted her life to her narrative skill. Gradually she began to make life-choices shaped to fit the kind of story she was prepared to tell in that journal.
So Montgomery's gift for storytelling both twisted and reinforced the tangled threads of her life. She never undervalued that gift; it helped her endure considerable trials, which she was then able to convert into amusing anecdotes and engaging plots. For her writing was a refuge, a solace, and a joy. . . . Her words have brought pleasure to many, for through them Montgomery created a circle of friends, a ring of laughter, and a sense of place.

To an avid L.M. Montgomery fan, this biography provides an unusual glance into the popular writer and the private person. The contrast between the painful events recorded in her journal and her optimistic novels and characters give the reader an understanding of both Montgomery as she was, and as she wished to be. To anyone unfamiliar with Anne, Emily, Pat, and Montgomery's many other characters, this biography will encourage reading and study of this well-loved Canadian author.

The chronological summary that concludes the work is both interesting and helpful to the reader. It would be a useful reference when selecting the order in which to read, or re-read, the Montgomery novels. The extensive list of consulted works would also be helpful in further study. Photographs add authenticity to the research done by Rubio and Waterston.

Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston, professors at the University of Guelph, are co-editors of The Selected Journals of L.M.Montgomery, Volumes 1, 2, and 3, as well as many other works on Montgomery. They present a compelling life-story that neither embellishes nor hides the facts.

Rubio and Waterston have divided the biography into small sections with headings rather than chapters. The Introduction is the first section, "The Storyteller's Gift," which leads into "A Story Girl," "Western Trip and First Publication," and so on. The problems Montgomery encounters with her American publisher make for interesting reading, and the publishing and financial information make this biography more than merely a record of the events in Montgomery's life.

But the real pull of the work is the blend of Montgomery's personal and writing life, and the comparison of her journal to her fictional writing. The readable style and detailed research make this a most enjoyable study of a writer admired for the heroines she gave to Canadian literature.

Highly recommended.

Deborah Mervold is a Teacher/Librarian in Shellbrook, Saskatchewan.

Book Review


Ellen Frith.
Lantzville, B.C.: Oolichan Books, 1995. 265pp, paper, $l4.95.
ISBN 0-88982-147-X.

Grades 10 and Up / Ages 14 and Up.
Review by Pat Bolger.


Raymonde stood in the middle of the living room stark naked and bright pink from her hot bath. Stretched out towards William. her pregnant belly flaunted its protruding navel and its stripe of darkened skin like a zipper from her breast bone to her pubic hair. William couldn't fail to notice that that hair had grown back darker, lusher and more dangerous-looking than ever. . . . Did Raymonde have no shame, he thought, shuddering, Her old art students would have jumped up and applauded and cried, "Magnificent!" William, however, could only recoil in horror. He emitted a little shriek of horror similar to the one he gave when his shower went cold, and as Raymonde spun around in a jiggling little dance, crying, "Do you like it?" he fainted. On his way out the window, the Canadian flag floated free and was later found by three small boys on a street several blocks away. They took it home to their father, a staunch Quebec nationalist who cut it up and, bit by bit, burned it in an ashtray.

Frith makes good use of this sort of deadpan delivery throughout Man-S-Laughter, undercutting dramatic events with mundane details like the ardent nationalist burning the late William's flag in an ashtray. This matter-of-fact tone helps the reader to accept for the moment the strong element of unreality that characterises both the events and the characters in the novel.

So characters like the first of Raymonde's doomed husbands acquire a degree of believability, although the reader still wonders why anyone would marry Morris Harris, alias Raspberry Mahogany, who made a habit of teetering on the edge of subway platforms to frighten bystanders -- until the shocking accident. On the other hand, the dispassionate tone also makes even the central characters so flat that it is difficult to care much what happens to Raymonde, her husbands, children, and friends.

Frith maintains the suspense well, only very gradually revealing that the apparently innocent and childlike Raymonde has murdered all of her husbands. The heavy use of flashbacks, rarely in chronological order, introduces a chaotic element likely to challenge the patience of many readers.

The cover image, which effectively suggests the novel's emphasis on the grotesque, is more likely to repel than attract adolescents.

Not recommended.

Pat Bolger is a retired Teacher/Librarian living in Renfrew, Ontario.

Notable Web Sites

Every week, CM presents a brief collection of noteworthy, useful, or just interesting sites
we've turned up and actually checked.

Please send us URLs and evaluations of any web-sites you think deserve the exposure.


Spending too much time on the Web can result in the loss of friends, muscle tone, and pleasant body odour.

The Tele-Garden

What's the best thing about science? That's right, robots. This site lets you actually manipulate a gardening robot with an attached camera in another part of the world. Get involved and they'll even let you plant seeds and water the garden.

Writers in Electronic Residence

You still have a week to get your students involved signed up for the Winter term of this program. Their work could be looked at (electronically) by an impressive list of Canadian writers. Just in the secondary school program of WIER, for example, the writers are Susan Musgrave, Trevor Ferguson, and John Gray.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

This popular site is immensely well done, a great resource for history and archeology.
The final list of the Seven Wonders was compiled during the Middle Ages. The list comprised the seven most impressive monuments of the Ancient World, some of which barely survived to the Middle Ages. Others did not even co-exist. Among the oldest references to the canonical list are the engravings by the Dutch artist Maerten van Heemskerck (1498-1574), and Johann Fischer von Erlach's History of Architecture.
The site covers the history and background of Seven Wonders individually and collectively, with plenty of hypertext links for deeper information on sub-topics. It's also well-designed, and includes attractive images of the Wonders (disclaimer: "Note: The color painting at the top of the page is of artistic nature and does not necessarily represent an accurate reconstruction of the Wonder")

AUFORA - UFO Information

AUFORA is The Alberta UFO Research Association. Okay, let's get this straight: there are no alien visitors, and X-Files is not taken from actual U.S. government reports. But there's something fun about UFOs, and AUFORA is one of the more credible kinds of groups that tries to seriously investigate the legitimate phenomenon of UFO sightings. This page has a place to report sightings, links to other UFO pages, and actual pictures of aliens, crop circles, UFOs, and so on (disclaimer: "AUFORA can not guarantee the verity of all pictures").


This site, from the University of Illinois, requires a bit of patience, but it's worth it for video clips of, for example, "3-D Colliding Black Holes." Also the end of the universe, and more! If you get the feeling that American universities have more money than ours do, you're right; when I was at UIUC in person there were lounges with leather chairs for undergrads.

Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

Book Reviews by Author
Book Reviews by Title
Audio/Video/CD-ROM Reviews by Title
Volume 2 Index