CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 5 . . . .October 27, 2006
S is for Spirit Bear: A British Columbia Alphabet.
G. Gregory Roberts. Illustrated by Bob Doucet.
Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press (Distributed in Canada by H.B. Fenn & Co, Bolton, Ontario), 2006.
40 pp., cloth, $24.95.
British Columbia-Juvenile literature.
Grades 5-7 / Ages 11-13.
Review by Gregory Bryan.
C is for the Capilano Bridge,
two cables anchored tight.
More squeamish visitors turn around
when they see its daunting height.
My youngest child was born during the three years that my family lived in British Columbia. As such, BC will always hold a special place in my heart. This being the case, I was delighted to add S is for Spirit Bear: A British Columbia Alphabet to our family library as a keepsake reminder of the happy times we spent in what many would argue is Canada’s most beautiful province.
As I read S is for Spirit Bear with my two daughters, the book brought back many pleasant memories of the enjoyable times spent in British Columbia (and the somewhat terrifying crossings of Capilano Bridge while it bobbed and swayed in the wind). Turning from one page to the next, my oldest daughter often commented on the things of which the book reminded her.
S is for Spirit Bear follows the successful and attractive format of other Sleeping Bear Press provincial alphabet books like A is for Algonquin (Ontario), C is for Chinook (Alberta), the new, P is for Puffin (Newfoundland and Labrador) and the Canadian alphabet book, M is for Maple. As with the other books, in S is for Spirit Bear, a short verse introduces the subject for each letter. That subject is then more fully discussed in information-rich explanatory paragraphs. For young children like my daughters, the rhyming introductory verse is sufficient, but older readers will get greater benefit from taking the time to go back and read all the additional information crammed into each page. I am one older reader who was reassured to learn that “you could drive 20 of Victoria’s double-decker buses onto the [Capilano] bridge and it still wouldn’t break.”
The text is by G. Gregory Roberts, who was born and raised in Alberta. Like me, Roberts fell in love with British Columbia while studying at the University of British Columbia. Roberts’ enthusiasm for his subject is evident. He has done a terrific job in representing the well-known tourist attractions of B.C. (like the Capilano Bridge, the killer whales, the majestic mountains and the First Nation totem poles) but also in augmenting them with details of some of the quirkier, less well-known features of B.C. (like the Harrison Hot Springs sand sculpture competition—and the village’s rich Sasquatch lore—and the Ogopogo from the Okanagan Lake).
In evaluating any alphabet book, I like always to subject the book to the X-test. Unfortunately, this book fails that stern test. In this case, X is for Terry Fox (to be fair, the text actually says, “The name Terry Fox holds the X”). Failing the X-test was, however, one of only very few disappointments of the book, and I must concede that I am at a loss as to what Roberts might have used for a more satisfying X.
Roberts’ text is supplemented by the Bob Doucet illustrations. Like Roberts, Doucet is not a BC native. Originally from Boston, Doucet now has the good fortune to live on BC’s beautiful Bowen Island. Some of the illustrations are better than others, but they are generally of a high standard. I find the ferryboat, killer whale, Ogopogo and Bill Reid illustrations amongst the best.
British Columbia will always be dear to my heart, and I thank Roberts and Doucet for bringing back many sweet memories. This is a book for anyone who has ever been to British Columbia or, like most of those who haven’t been there yet, would love to go.
Gregory Bryan teaches literacy education and children’s literature classes in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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