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. Volume VIII Number 14 . . . . March 15, 2002
Using the pseudonym Teddy Jam, Matt Cohen wrote many wonderful children's books. This lovely picture book is his last, written shortly before his death in 1999. It is a celebration of the glory days of hockey and of Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. But more, it is a poignant portrait of a young boy's hockey-loving father, whose stint in the war changed him forever. The boy (unnamed) tells of his hero worship of the legendary Conacher brothers and then describes the fantastic night when he and his father join Charlie Conacher to watch a game in the Gardens. The same night, he has an incredible dream in which he is playing hockey with the Leafs, and he scores on the Boston Bruins, assisted by both Charlie and his father. The story then advances in time to when he takes his daughter skating with his elderly father. At the conclusion of the book, the Gardens are closed, but his rich memories have a life of their own.
Ange Zhang, who illustrated two other stories by Teddy Jam, here provides beautifully expressive paintings that match the quiet intensity of the writing. Using broad brush strokes, he perfectly captures the energy of the hockey players, especially that of the young boy as, with absolute concentration, he speeds across the park rink. Both pictures and text are filled with small details that recreate the time period, and both reveal the love this family shares. The painting of the father sitting motionless on the front steps in his uniform while the mother and young boy observe him sadly through the door is heart-wrenching in its statement of how men returned from the war irreparably changed. Careful attention has also been given to the design, starting with the end papers in Leaf blue. From the opening image of the young boy skating to the final image of his young daughter skating, the cycle of life is reinforced.
Alison Mews is the librarian of the Curriculum Materials Centre in the Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador.
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