As a graduate student at the Simmons Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, one of my most interesting classes was Canadian Literature. You may be picturing a young orphan girl with red braids – I certainly did. My “word association” leap went straight to….Anne of Green Gables. But that was before I read books by Tim Wynne Jones, Kit Pearson, Brian Doyle, and Sarah Ellis – among many others. In fact, it was that class that introduced me to the Canadian classic, The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier, a book I now read annually with middle school students.
My favorite discovery was a picture book published in 1971 – Mary of Mile 18, the story of a young girl who finds a wolf pup that she is not allowed to keep – unless she can find a way to show her father that the dog is worth feeding. The book takes place in a remote part of the Canadian wilderness in a house with no electricity. I can still remember learning that the author, Ann Blades, was only 20-years-old when she wrote the book as a story for the Canadian children she was teaching.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with a stack of new Canadian picture books published by Tradewind Books:
Anna Carries Water by Olive Senior – Set in Jamaica, this book is a long way from Mary of Mile 18, but both stories are about girls who are experiencing rites of passage. In Anna’s case, she wants to carry water on her head just like her older siblings. When her family goes to collect water, her brothers and sisters carry buckets on their heads without spilling a drop, but Anna carries her empty coffee can in her hands. Ultimately, with the help of some cows, Anna learns to carry the water, but what I really like about this story is its message about water. At Inly, our younger students learn about the fundamental needs that all people share. Anna Carries Water is a book teachers could use to introduce a lesson about the importance of water to everyone’s daily life.
Dolphin SOS by Roy Miki and Slavia Miki – Based on a true story of three dolphins trapped on the coast of Newfoundland in 2009, Dolphin SOS is told from the point of view of a young girl who is awakened by the “piercing eerie” sounds of crying dolphins. Along with her two brothers and several others in their small town, they guide the dolphins back to open water. This is definitely a book I will read to the students this year. It has everything they like most in a story: animals, kids as heroes, and a happy ending. The illustrations by Vancouver-based artist Julie Flett are crisp and elegant – I want to cut them out and hang them on the Library walls (but I won’t)!
Time for Flowers, Time for Snow by Glen Huser – a retelling of the myth of Persephone, but what makes this one special is that the book includes a CD of the story performed as an opera. The illustrations by Philippe Beha evoke thoughts of Marc Chagall. Look at this picture from inside:
Huser’s book would be an excellent gift for kids who enjoy reading Greek myths. Sometimes a student who is reading the Rick Riordan series will ask me to recommend other stories based on myths. I always give them the D’Aulaires’ book, but Time for Flowers, Time for Snow would be a good one to give them as well.
No-Matter-What Friend by Kari-Lynn Winters – a sweet elegiac story about a boy and a dog growing older together. Winters’ book is less plot-driven and more an evocation of the special relationship many of us have had with our animal friends.
I am looking forward to sharing all of these books with our students. They reminded me to pay closer attention to the excellent books being published north of the border.
(Books were provided by Tradewind Books)