CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 14 . . . . March 17, 2006
Cassie is an unhappy little girl, upset at being so small. When Granny Shoongish tries to comfort Cassie, the girl explains that her size prevents her from ever doing anything fun. Cassie is always last chosen for games. Cassie cannot reach things. Nobody ever listens to Cassie. Cassie simply cannot wait to grow up.
Cassie’s patient grandmother decides that Cassie needs to learn about potential. Fortunately, Cassie’s grandmother just happens to be able to talk with trees. At Granny Shoongish’s bidding, a giant oak tree proceeds to tell Cassie about how it had not enjoyed being a small acorn either. Fortunately for the oak tree, from tiny acorns, great oaks grow. So it was with Giant Oak Tree.
Unfortunately, Granny Shoongish and the Giant Oak Tree represents a return to the “bad old days” of children’s literature when books represented little more than an opportunity to sermonize to children. The latest Pemmican Publications offering presents the perfect example of didacticism—writing that pretends it is telling a story but is really a very thinly veiled lesson. Good writing, of course, can achieve both.
Certainly, the lesson is an important one for children to understand. The lesson is that, regardless of our size, we all have unlimited potential inside us. Despite being small of stature, we can all achieve great things. The challenge is to recognize and fulfil our potential. The author, Char Ducharme, is so fixated on spelling out this important lesson that she does just that—she literally spells it out! The word “potential” appears in the text seven times. Without exception, every time it appears, the word is presented as “P-O-T-E-N-T-I-A-L.”
This is evidenced in the following passage:
Jon Ljungberg’s illustrations are the strength of the book. That is not to say that they are particularly appealing; however, most are adequate. Some of the illustrations are quite good, like the picture of the two raccoons swinging from the oak tree. Unfortunately, the matte finish to the artwork leaves many of the illustrations flat and lifeless. Printing costs and budgetary constraints presumably contribute to the matte finish. While these are understandable considerations for a small publishing company, the reality is that, whatever constraints one is operating under, the product still needs to be competitive. In this case, the artwork simply cannot compete with the detailed, glossy, imaginative, breath-taking artwork originating from other children’s book publishing houses.
As a small Metis publishing house, Pemmican Publications serves a valuable purpose and fills a small, but important, niche. Pemmican is apparently the only Metis book publishing house in Canada. As such, it is desirable to support Pemmican whenever possible. That said, however, this book is not recommended. Better to wait until Pemmican comes up with a product more worthy of one’s hard-earned money.
Gregory Bryan is a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.
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