CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 8. . . .October 22, 2010.
Mary's Atlas: Mary Meets Ontario.
Gwen Smid. Illustrated by Sonia Nadeau.
Winnipeg, MB: Peanut Butter Press, 2010.
32 pp., hardcover, $18.00.
Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.
Review by Clancy Pryde.
Suddenly, with a creak and a crumble, the ground collapses under Mary, and she skitters down the hill. "Help!" she hollers, grasping at roots. A long twiggy hand scoops her up. The ancient tree twists into a smile, returning Mary to safety. "Are you okay?" Gavi picks a leaf out of her hair. Mary nods in relief. They dipsy-doodle around Georgian Bay, over Manitoulin Island, and into Lake Superior.
Mary's Atlas: Mary Meets Ontario is the second book from Canadian teacher and author Gwen Smid that takes young readers on a whirlwind tour of a province. In this book, Ontario plays the starring role as Mary taps her magic atlas once more to take her away from what is sure to be trouble at home after she plays a mischievous trick on her brother. She is transported through the book to Algonquin Provincial Park where she meets Gavi the Loon who becomes her tour guide through the province. Together, the two friends explore Ontario while trying to solve the mystery of why the Great Lakes are drying up. Along the way, they visit major historical and geographical points of interest and learn a bit of trivia.
This book works well as an imaginative story, filled with whimsical characters like fish with backpacks and a squirrel that lives on top of the CN Tower in a cozy outdoor loft, complete with a couch and magazines. The illustrations, by Sonia Nadeau, are wonderful and really bring the text alive, giving readers a way visualize the barrage of new places mentioned. There is a good map of Ontario at the front of the book, though it might be more useful to readers trying to follow the travelogue if it actually tracked Mary's journey. And the book finishes with a page of a few other Ontario points of interest to visit.
Where the book is less successful than it might be is in trying to be both educational and fantastical. In 30 pages, Mary and Gavi visit many, many real sites and meet a crowded cast of imaginary characters. A junior-grade reader trying to follow their itinerary will be left disoriented and confused, endlessly flipping to the map for reference. A primary-grade reader will likely just enjoy the story and not worry about all of the new places mentioned. And neither will probably be able to appreciate the trivia facts, unrelated to the story and unexplained, that are included at the bottom of most pages. A child in the target readership would need to have an improbable amount of background knowledge to find any relevancy in the sentence, "The Group of Seven created many famous paintings near this region." Perhaps it is the fact that so many places and events are mentioned and yet nothing is explored or explained in depth that leaves the educational aspirations of Mary Meets Ontario somewhat unsatisfied.
Enjoy this book with very young readers who will be amused by the playful story, but don't imagine that they will learn any more about the thousands of kilometres of Ontario that they just travelled than they did on that last trip to Grandma's when they fell asleep in the back seat of the car.
Recommended with reservations.
Clancy Pryde is a teacher in Toronto, ON.
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