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Saturday, 2 April 2016

Books from Canada

I am going to follow on from Karen McPherson’s blog of several weeks ago – For the Love of Picture Books – as my favourite genre is also picture books. But I am coming from a slightly different perspective. As we head towards the announcement of the CBCA 2016 Notables Books (April 18), and then the Short List (May 20), for this blog I am going to focus on books published in Canada and some of them short-listed for various Canadian children’s book awards.
Yes. I am back in Canada with my grandson. We have always enjoyed sharing picture books, and though he is nearly 8, this is still a delight for us both, whether I am actually in the room with him (as now) or communicating via Skype. We are now reading chapter books together too, but they are not going to come into this blog’s discussion. I have found all these books through the local library where the picture book collection is current and wide-ranging with an unexpectedly good number of Australian authors too. We’ve had fun sharing and discussing these books and others which I borrowed before choosing the ones to write about.
The following are some of the ones that I have enjoyed.

Nancy Knows by CybeleYoung. Winner of the Marilyn Baillie picture book award in 2015
 Nancy knows that she has forgotten something, but what can it be? As the reader turns the pages, all sorts of possibilities are offered: things all the same colour or shape; things she remembers with her stomach, ears or heart; organised or jumbled things. And so it goes on until Nancy stops thinking and finally remembers. The illustrations are great: lots of white space, objects made from intricate paper folding or plastic. As an adult reader I love the fact that Nancy is an elephant, drawn with a minimum of lines, and what has she forgotten? Meeting Oscar in the park.

From There to Here by Lauren Croza and Matt James. Finalist for Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award Several years ago I reviewed I Know Here, a child’s story of her Saskatchewan home before she has to move. This is the sequel: the child’s perceptions after the move. There are comparisons of two vastly differing locations expressing the challenges of change and adapting to the new but also the excitement of finding the differences while also reminiscing on the former home. A great way to help children adapt to moving house. Lots of colour and movement in the illustrations and no two pages look alike.

Morris Mickelwhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino and illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant. Finalist for Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award and the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award
Morris loves dressing up, especially in the tangerine dress, which reminds him of his family’s hair colour. But other kids in the class don’t agree with his clothes choice and exclude him from activities. Morris perseveres until his behaviour persuades everyone that he is the important one, not what he’s wearing. A gentle way of starting discussions about identity and acceptance.

L’Autobus by Marianne Dubuc. Finalist for the TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse
Though this book is in French, it is the delightful story of a child taking her first solo bus ride. She knows how many stops before she has to get off, but there is so much happening on board that she loses track. But it doesn’t matter because she recognises the locality when she gets near her grandmother’s house. The book format is landscape: perfect for portraying the length of the bus and the many passengers, all of whom are animals. I loved it.

I have just discovered the author/illustrator Ashley Spires. I have found her illustrations to be clear, spaced beautifully on the page, with details but not overwhelming. My favourite of all the ones I have read this trip is Over-Scheduled Andrew. Andrew loves drama and being in plays and joins in to many different groups at school, and after-school activities that he doesn’t have time for anything: neither his friends, no down-time, and he becomes exhausted. So he drops many things and achieves a balanced life. It is not didactic though many adults could learn from Andrew’s situation. Though the animals in the story are anthropomorphic, which normally I don’t like, it works. I like the fact that it is a picture book with a message for primary and secondary aged readers as well as adults, and it is a subtle message which may be absorbed by younger readers. Small Saul, the book where the main character is an unconventional pirate who proves that life needs all sorts of personalities in it, has been chosen as the one to be given to all Grade 1 students in Canada. A wonderful idea. This is a program organised by the Canadian Book Centre and supported by TD bank.

Lastly. Any questions? by Marie-Louise Gay.
Gay has started with many of the questions she is asked when visiting schools and answered many of them, creating a multi-layered, open-ended story written in beautiful prose, about a gentle giant and a fierce purple beast. She talks about her art work and has used many examples in this book: watercolour, gouache, pen and ink, pencil, collage. What happens if the starting page is not white? How does the story develop from the blank page? It’s longer than a standard picture book, a great read for sharing but also a wonderful stimulus for children to write.
I do hope you can find some of these to enjoy.
Maureen Mann
Retired teacher librarian and avid reader

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