________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 14 . . . . March 17, 2006


Granny Shoongish and the Giant Oak Tree.

Char Ducharme. Illustrated by Jon Ljungberg.
Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican Publications, 2005.
32 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 1-894717-33-3.

Subject Heading:
Métis children-Juvenile fiction.

Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 4-6.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

½ /4


“Giant Oak Tree, Cassie is sad that she is small. Could you please tell her the story that you once told me,” Granny Shoongish asked the giant oak tree.

“Why, yes, of course I can,” said Giant Oak Tree.

The giant oak tree began:

“There was a time when I was very little…”


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.

internal art

     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:

“Can you say that word Cassie? It sounds big but it really isn’t”, said Giant Oak Tree.

Cassie tried to say the word: “P-O-T-E-N-T-I-A-L”

“Very good Cassie,” said Giant Oak Tree.

“Do you know what P-O-T-E-N-T-I-A-L means? Giant Oak Tree asked. It is a VERY IMPORTANT WORD.”

“Hmmn, not really,” Cassie answered.

     Aside from the poor dialogue that the above example provides, it also serves to illustrate something that troubles me more than the feeble writing and “flat” illustrations. Careful editing would not have allowed the above six-line extract to contain seven instances of incorrect or missing punctuation. There are missing and misplaced commas, a missing period, and missing quotation marks. Seven errors in six lines! I literally lost count of the number of grammatical errors in the book. With errors so liberally scattered throughout the text, one must be hesitant to share this text with children—if for no other reason than that they may pick up innumerable bad habits, to say nothing of the fact that the story is unappealing.

     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.

Not recommended

Gregory Bryan is a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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