CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 8 . . . . October 23, 2015
According to publicity materials enclosed with the review copies, "Doubledutch Books is a new children's book publishing house based in Winnipeg, MB. We plan to publish fiction and nonfiction with curriculum tie-ins."
The back material to both Wake Up, Oliver! and Nigel's Neighbours contain two lists of words, "High-frequency words" (Referenced from Dolch Word List) and "Other words you need to know". The appearance of these lists confirms that these two titles in the "Our Neighbourhood" series are primarily intended to be a resource in teaching reading as opposed to being items for a child's recreational reading.
In Wake Up, Oliver!, Oliver's mother comes into his bedroom, bringing with her the family's dog, Teddy, whose task it is to rouse Oliver. As seen in the "excerpt" above, Oliver responds to Teddy by rubbing Teddy's belly and so begins a series of activities, all of which get labelled as Teddy's "favourite thing in the whole wide world", including tugging on Oliver's blankets, having his faced washed while Oliver showers, begging for food from Oliver's school lunch, eating part of Oliver's breakfast, munching on a dog chew, playing catch with a ball, giving kisses and looking out the window.
The title, Nigel's Neighbours, and the accompanying cover illustration may initially cause some confusion for young readers as to the identity of Nigel. "Nigel" is a name normally associated with males, but the only human found on the cover is a blonde, pony-tailed girl. However, if youngsters have previously encountered Wake Up, Oliver!, they may recall that Oliver tells Teddy, "After school, we will go for a walk with Harriet and her puppy, Nigel." And, if they haven't, the book's opening page makes it clear that Nigel is Harriet's apparently new puppy. After school, Harriet asks her mother if she can take Nigel to Emmy's house. At Emmy's, Emmy remarks on how much Nigel looks like a lamb, and this comparison of the white puppy begins a series of comparisons as other children drop by and see the resemblance between Nigel and a polar bear cub, a rabbit and an Arctic fox.
Design-wise, the major part of both books consists of a series of workman-like double-page spreads with the text appearing at the bottom of the pages. The characters being illustrated reflect Canada's multi-racial composition and what appears to be a middle class neighbourhood. In Wake Up, Oliver!, illustrator álvarez needed to pay a bit more attention to continuity as, a couple of times, the dimple in Oliver's cheek and the part in his hair switch sides.
On a pair of facing pages following the main text, the "same" illustration is presented along with the invitation, "Can you find 5 differences in the pictures?" In future books in the series, the publishers might consider adding an answer key.
Just before the aforementioned word lists that close each book, Doubledutch Books offers its young readers a surprise - a full-colour photo of that book's "real" dog along with a paragraph that provides its breed or mix of breeds and what it likes and dislikes doing.
The initial two books in the "Our Neighbourhood" series deserve a place in school classrooms/libraries, and creative teachers can easily use the book's repetitive text patterns as models for their students, individually or collectively, to build on the existing stories or to create their own.
Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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