________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 3 . . . . September 29, 2006


Nannycatch Chronicles.

James Heneghan & Bruce McBay.
Vancouver, BC: Tradewind Books, 2005.
82 pp., cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 1-896580-56-4.

Subject Headings:
Forest animals-Juvenile fiction.
Community-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.

Review by Stacie Edgar.

*** /4



Everything dies: flowers, trees, elephants, bees, hamsters, turtles, dolphins, dogs, cats……


Nothing lives forever.

Everyone knows this.

Young readers, however, should guard against this book falling into the hands of grown-ups, many of whom get quite upset whenever the subject of death is mentioned.

Don't ask us why.

At some point in their young lives, many children become preoccupied with a genuine curiosity surrounding death and dying. They wonder why it happens and sometimes have many questions. Although some adults would like to shield children from the hurt and pain caused by death, a natural interest and sometimes anxiety around the topic should be addressed or at the very least discussed. The collection of stories in The Nannycatch Chronicles does deal with death in a light-hearted manner. This may be disturbing to some but may also be a way to address a somewhat heavy topic. With the influence of television and video games that treat death and dying as a by-product of enjoyment, there needs to be a safe arena for children to discuss and question such a natural part of life. While this book may not have all the answers, it could begin a dialogue where children safely question their own mortality.

     The book begins with the above caveat cautioning children not to let the book fall into the wrong hands. Not only would the topic pique their interest, but they may be even more enticed to read a book with such an ominous warning. The series of stories begins as some of the animals in Nannycatch Meadows gather for Possum's birthday party. Uncle Possum inadvertently causes Weasel's death by pushing the poor creature into oncoming traffic. The young Possum's party is ruined, and the all the animals begin to question death.

“Why must we die?”” moaned Mole, shaking his head.

“I wish we knew the answer,” said Badger. “We live and we die. That's all we know.”

     The stories continue with many of the animals' homes in The Great Forest destroyed because the humans are building a new highway. This sign of progress is ruining life for the animals in Nannycatch Meadows, and many are asked to take in displaced neighbours. Always wanting to help his fellow creature, Possum takes in the Shrew family much to the annoyance of his visiting uncle. An argument ensues, and Possum is forced to move in with Racoon while Uncle Possum and the Shrews clean out his food stores and move on.

     The tales of Possum and his friends continue with their lives often being disrupted by Uncle Possum's mean and spiteful heart. At one point, Uncle Possum undergoes surgery to fix his heart, but the operation is unsuccessful, and he is just as selfish and nasty as ever. The group of stories ends with Possum's saving Badger's life by accepting the help of his grandfather's spirit and making a potion to heal his friend's wounds after being caught in a trap.

     Throughout the stories, Uncle Possum causes many deaths and upsetting events, but his nephew, Possum, balances his uncle's meanness with kindness and courage. There is a tug-of-war between good and bad in these fast-paced stories that barely touch on the impact of death in the animals' lives. They often make light of death and show little depth of character. However, there are some examples of descriptive writing and a quick mention of the essential needs of all the animals in the forest - Love, Freedom, Fun, and Success.

     Published simultaneously in Canada and Great Britain, this book is written by the same authors as Waiting for Sarah, the winner of the 2005 MYRCA (Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Award). Bruce McBay and James Heneghan both live in Vancouver and write mainly for adolescents. McBay dreamed of a mythical world called Nannycatch after a recent trip to England. Depending on the popularity of the book, the door is open for an entertaining sequel of the Nannycatch Chronicles. Also from Vancouver, illustrator Geraldo Valerio provides an assortment of black-and-white, hand-drawn whimsical images that reflect the text.

     This book is entertaining and fast-moving, which may keep children interested and engaged. Ideally, this book could be read aloud at home and/or at school where parents and teachers could discuss the content. However, even if a child were to read it on her/his own with no outside support, there are no explicit blood and gore scenes like those that one may find on television.


Stacie Edgar recently graduated from the University of Winnipeg and currently teaches in the Winnipeg School Division.

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

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