CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 32. . . April 28, 2017
An ABC of Ottawa was a labour of love for artist/book designer Miriam Bloom whose co-author, photographer Julie Mason, died before the book was finished. "I couldn't let it go," Bloom writes in her “Acknowledgements”. She and Julie's husband, Don McGregor, worked together to photograph, design and write the missing pages. (The photo credits and locations are listed at the end.) The authors have created a colourful book that little hands will reach out for.
The letters and accompanying sentences are in a large, clear font. Each letter has two pages devoted to it, one for the letter and sentence, the other for the photograph. While the letters are shown in upper case only, the sentences often show the letter in lower case.
In undertaking this project, the authors embraced a huge challenge. They had to choose photos that would appeal to children and convey something interesting about the national capital. They also had to select words that are meaningful to children six and under. As well, they had to match the words to the photographs or perhaps vice versa.
Sometimes the authors are successful in blending these considerations. "Night" is a familiar concept to young children and "N is for Night" shows Canada Day fireworks over the Parliament buildings. Other times the word choice is problematic. For instance, a picture of the giant spider sculpture, "Maman", which is outside the National Gallery of Canada on Sussex Drive, might have fit better as "S is for Spider" rather than as "M is for Maman", seeing as the book is in English. In one instance, the picture doesn't quite match the word. "J is for Jogger" shows children racing at a track and field event at Cairine Wilson Secondary School. A photo of joggers along the Rideau Canal would have been easy to obtain and more suitable but perhaps was rejected because these joggers are adults, not kids.
It appears that An ABC of Ottawa is intended to be read to a child by an adult for some of the words, like "astrolabe" and "inukshuk", are quite difficult. These two words have a good Ottawa connection, however, as there is a well known statue of Champlain on Nepean Point near the National Gallery and many inukshuks created by amateur sculptors along the Ottawa River.
Sometimes the authors miss an opportunity to show the Ottawa connection. "V is for Vegetables", a lush photo of tomatoes, is accompanied by the sentence: "They are good to eat and good for you". A sentence about the historic Byward Market could have been used. (The Byward Market is mentioned in the credits as the location of the tomato picture.) "T is for Tulip" features a beautiful tulip photo and is accompanied by the question, "Can you tiptoe through them?" (Do young children know the song, "Tiptoe through the Tulips”?) A sentence about the annual Ottawa tulip festival might have fit there instead.
Tomatoes and tulips, while familiar to children, are not unique to Ottawa. Nor is snow. "S is for Snow" shows a snow covered playground normal all over Canada in winter. "S is for Snow Sculptures" would have referenced the much photographed snow and ice sculptures at Ottawa's annual Winterlude festival.
These criticisms seem petty, however, when one remembers that Bloom and Mason had a lot of considerations to juggle in blending preschoolers' words and concepts, photos and the Ottawa connection. Instead of thinking of An ABC of Ottawa as a kiddies' book, perhaps it should be considered as an amusing, visually entertaining book for all age groups. Certainly it interested me. I was pleased to find, under "W for Waterfall", a photo of the Hog's Back Falls on the Rideau Canal near my home. "F is for Farm" shows cattle at the Central Experimental Farm's Agriculture Museum, also close to where I live.
An ABC of Ottawa shows Miriam Bloom's expertise as an artist and book designer. The book's physical attractiveness will appeal to children, and, even if they don't understand everything in it, they will learn something about the national capital. Visitors who come here to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary may want An ABC of Ottawa as a souvenir.
Author Ruth Latta has accompanied her young relatives to many of the places in An ABC of Ottawa. Her most recent book, a YA novel, is Grace and the Secret Vault.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.