________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 12. . . .November 20, 2009


Cape Breton Wonders: Featuring Art by Marie Moore.

Shirley Everett & Chris Augusta Scott. Illustrated by Marie Moore.
Sydney, NS: Cape Breton University Press, 2008.
34 pp., stapled, $19.95.
ISBN 978-1-897009-31-4.

Subject Headings:
Moore, Marie, 1952 -Juvenile literature.
Cape Breton Island (N.S.)-In art-Juvenile literature.

Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.

Review by Meredith Snyder.

** /4



Did you ever wonder why...

our mothers re-washed the wash?

Those who have stood on the shores of Cape Breton Island know it for a beautiful place; those who have lingered longer and realize the island offers more than a storybook sense of wonderment may have some questions about life on the island, digging deeper to discover the essence of a hard-working culture. Life on the island has changed dramatically in the last 50 years, and Cape Breton Wonders is a painted record of how Capers once lived.

internal art      This picture book, text designed to link a series of unconnected oil paintings by Cape Breton artist Marie Moore, includes postcard-perfect views of an island so carefully captured in brochures promoting the region. While the paintings are skillfully done, the unimaginative angles and the distance from which they are painted make them ineffective as children’s book illustrations; they neither invite the viewer into the scene nor encourage creative engagement with the text. The reader’s view is almost always that of an outsider; even in the images where many human figures are present, such as Moxham castle on page 9, in which the view is that of a fly on a wall, not a participant in the scene.

     Still, Moore’s paintings are the book’s greatest strength. Where the pictures lack the narrative coherence to hold together as a wordless picture-story, the text fails to forge this connection. The repetitive structure of the questions, “Did you ever wonder why...” might appeal to very young children; however, it is unlikely that readers, least of all a target audience lacking in detailed knowledge or first-hand experience of Cape Breton’s history, would ever have asked themselves any of the questions the authors pose. In spite of detailed notes at the back of the book, explaining each of the paintings, the book would need a very knowledgeable adult reader to bring it to life.

     The book’s formal weaknesses notwithstanding, it does show some potential as a teaching tool. Occasionally, the authors ask deeper, more interesting questions such as, “Did you ever wonder why... the miners risked their lives?” which could lead to a discussion about the history of mining in Nova Scotia, and “Did you ever wonder why.... our mothers re-washed the wash?” which opens the floor for productive discussions of Cape Breton’s toxic industrial sites and their harmful effects on the inhabitants of the region. Unfortunately, these thoughtful inquiries are outnumbered and undermined by superficial tourism-board slogans such as “Did you ever wonder why... Cape Breton holds such beauty?” which do nothing but take up space on the page.

     The book’s weaknesses – its lack of coherence, its narrowness of appeal, its whimper of an ending line – are unfortunate, given Marie Moore’s obvious artistic talent. Cape Breton Wonders, as a visual record of life in Cape Breton at a certain point in history, may still have its application in households and classrooms in Nova Scotia and on Cape Breton in particular. Its value beyond this specific region is extremely limited.

Recommended with reservations.

Meredith Snyder is an English teacher in Fredericton, NB.

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

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