Thursday, July 03, 2008

Happy (Belated) Canada Day!

We had a happy Canada Day around Tough City. So happy and full of action that I didn't find time to post despite my best intentions. Before I get to a couple of books celebrating our big mass of a country, I'll pass this link on (since I seem to be hepped on alphabet books at the moment): Beyond the Letters: A Retrospective of Canadian Alphabet Books. It's five years out of date, but there's lots of interesting information, and, of course, links to great Canadian books, here. Definitely worth a look.

First up, Eh? to Zed: A Canadian ABeCedarium. Written by Kevin Major and illustrated by Alan Daniel, this is largely an illustrated book with pictures to pore over. Each page (and thus each letter) is allotted a page where Daniels has constructed a collage of images related to the letter. So, for example, the text for L is: Loon, lacrosse, Lillooet, lumberjack. And the accompanying image illustrates just that (with a twist in that the loon is a rubbing of the dollar coin, the "loonie.") But, like most picture books, there's more to it. If you read the text on both pages of a spread, you'll see you have rhyming stanzas such as this:

Gould, Gretzky, Greene, Grizzly bear
Habitant, Horseshore, humpback, hare

Daniel's illustrates the text in an interesting and varied way. For instance, for G we see Glenn Gould on the jewel case of a CD, a skating Wayne Gretzky, and a museum mounted grizzly bear (on a platform). Nancy Greene is shown on one half of one of those flip books where you can change the head, torso and legs of creatures (in this case people) to make funny images. We see Nancy's toqued-head and her legs with skis, but for a torso she has the back of Gretzky's (#99) jersey. Hmm, a little odd, but okay. The strange thing though is that a native person on the other side of the flip book (with a befeathered headress and leather-clothed legs and feet) has what appears to be a cowboy's torso. There is no mention of this native person here or in the text at the back of the book. An oversight or deliberately done to promote discussion? I'd love to know. (Actually, now I DO know! See below.)

At the back of the book there is a densely packed (VERY small font!) four-page spread of text and this is not to be missed: it is full of gems. The pages are titled The Choice of Words, The Choice of Images and is followed by: "Kevin Major's caravan of words cheers our history and celebrates our heroes. It couple the well known with the obscure, the curious with the symbols of our nation. For every province and territory there is a place name, for many junctions of our country something to be discovered. Here are some morsels of information the author came up with for the 104 words."

Even more enlightening and interesting are the notes to Daniel's art: "Alan Daniel's response to these 26 quartets of words reflects the cultural artefacts that have emerged throughout our history. The tableaus he has created are filled with both folk and fine art, the sacred as well as the commercial. They are objects to display in museums and toys to fill a child's idle hours. Several of them call for special mention." So, for example, the Mountie is a whirligig, the Humpback is a soapstone carving, and a cornhusk doll holds a Lacrosse stick. Here's what he has to say about the flip book for G: "A flip book can put Nancy GREENE on skates or make her namesakes Graham and Lorne do a switch-about in television land." Oh, you mean that's Graham Greene? Yikes, I never would have known unless I mined the back for this detail. It's unlikely Graham Greene or Lorne Greene will mean much to kids, but hopefully it won't be lost on the adult reader and it certainly made me want to pore over every other page to see what else would come to light.

Here's the Q, X and Z test:

Quahog, quarter horse, quints, Qu'Appelle
Xenon, xylograph, x-country, x-ing
Zamboni, zipper, zinc, zed

Okay, a bit of a stretch for some because xenon, Zamboni's, and zippers aren't really Canadian (zippers are marginally), but Major skillfully makes them fit in his explanatory notes, so I'll give him that!

In honour of Canada Day, or any day for that matter, this book is one for the bookshelves of all Canadian kids. Just don't forget to spend time with the four pages of notes at the end. They bring so much more to the book and truly make it interactive, not to mention giving an excellent grounding in the diversity of our countries history, geography, citizens, culture, and art.

Here's a review from Canadian Materials.

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