CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 4 . . . . October 13, 2006
As you may have noticed, CM frequently includes a “New Editions” section in which the publication lets readers know when a publisher reissues a book that CM has already reviewed, and from that notice CM creates a hot link to the original review. Consequently, when, in my role as CM editor, I received a copy of Simon Says: Seasons, my initial thought was that the book was simply a compilation of the four previously published “Simon” books which were referenced on the copyright page. My conclusion found support in the accompanying publicity sheet from the publisher which, in part, said, “A new, single volume edition of these beloved stories of the seasons.” My next step was to ascertain if CM had actually reviewed the quartet back in the late 1980's and early 1990's, a search which revealed that one of the books, Simon and the Snowflakes, was not in the CM Archive. Plan B was then to review just the missing portion, now called “Simon in Winter,” and to provide hot links to the other three reviews.
As the Education Library at the University of Manitoba houses the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s regional collection, I was able to quickly locate the four “Simon” volumes which were originally published between 1988 and 1991. Having previously reviewed some of the Robert Munsch “Treasury” compilations, I realized that publishers sometimes made some changes to a book’s design when republishing it as part of a larger work. Consequently, I was not surprised when I saw that the Tibo books had originally been presented in a horizontal format but were now in a vertical form. And I wasn’t surprised that the original structure of pairs of facing pages, with one being composed of text and the other illustration, was replaced by pairs of facing pages both with carrying an illustration and the text then being placed beneath the illustration.
The big, surprise, however, came when I began to compare the texts between the two versions. I anticipated that there might be minor word changes of the type that I had found in the Munsch “Treasuries.” In fact, what I discovered was that the four stories have essentially been rewritten, and, from my perspective, the new products are not nearly engaging the originals.
For those who don’t know the earlier books, in each one Simon sets himself what the reader/listener recognizes to be an impossible task. In Simon Welcomes Spring, he wants to hasten the arrival of spring while in Simon in Summer, he says, “I want summer to stay forever.” His goal in Simon and the Wind is to find an answer to the question, “How can I learn to fly in the wind?” Finally, in Simon and the Snowflakes, his self-imposed task is finding an answer to “How many flakes are there in a snowfall?” In each book, Simon addresses his question to two different non-human “helpers.” For instance, in Simon and the Wind, he first asks an owl and then a rabbit essentially the same question, “How can I make spring come?” Both provide answers which fundamentally tell him that he needs to be patient because spring will arrive in its own time, but their responses do not deter Simon from still trying to hurry the season along. Eventually, in all four books, Simon recognizes that he cannot accomplish his task, but in each he still finds some satisfaction from having engaged in the experience, with that conclusion always including his friends. For example, in Simon in Summer, he ultimately recognizes “I cannot make summer stay,” but within that recognition, there is also his realization that “When summer ends all my friends return.”
Now, in the 2006 compilation version of the four books, there really is no storyline because Simon’s “quest” has been completely excised although a shred of the original plot remains in “Simon in Winter,” formerly Simon and the Snowflakes. What’s left is a rather bland recitation of what Simon does in each season. Consequently, in summer, he just greets frogs, conducts a froggy chorus, walks on stilts, chases butterflies, makes artificial flowers, and tries to catch the sun.
A comparison of the language used within the original texts and that substituted in the compilation reveals that not only has it been truncated, but it is much less rich in its evocative power.
Changes have also been made to the illustrations. To fit the new format, illustrations have been slightly cropped but with no discernable loss of essential detail. For the first three stories, formerly books, the colours seem brighter, but those connected to the winter story appeared duller. Simon’s cheeks were truly rosy with cold in the 1988 version. Of greater concern is the deletion of three illustrations from each of the spring, summer and fall “stories” and two from the winter “story.” In two instances, illustrations have also been reordered to fit the new wording. As well, because the stories are no longer the same, Simon’s facial expressions do not always fit the new text. For example, in the summer story, because Simon has been told that, as long as the frogs sing, summer will stay, he heads off to the pond to entice them to remain.
The new text simply reads “I conduct a froggy chorus...” with no explanation proffered as to why the frogs are leaping away or that Simon’s open mouth is to indicate that he is singing.
So, if you have the original books, by all means keep them, and you can likely pass on this version. And if you don’t have the originals, you might still wish to pass. Tibo’s original text imaginatively empowered Simon while the current one reduces him to aimlessly doing just some kid-type activities loosely linked to a season. Though the blurb on the back of the dust jacket says, “Join Simon on a delightful journey as he discovers magic in the changing seasons,” the original magic is missing.
One has to wonder why Tundra elected not to reproduce the four books as they were originally. Length may have been a problem as the deleted pages don’t equal another full signature, but surely there had to a better response than gutting the stories. And why did the dust jacket (or somewhere else in the book) not inform readers that Simon Says: Seasons was a significantly reworked version of the earlier books.
Recommended with reservations.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children’s and adolescent literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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