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Boy's Own: An Anthology of Canadian Fiction for Young Readers

by edited by Tim Wynne-Jones
297 pages,
ISBN: 0670893048

Girl's Own: An Anthology of Canadian Fiction for Young Readers

by edited by Sarah Ellis
348 pages,
ISBN: 0670893447


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Children's Books
by Lena Coakley

Teachers, librarians and young readers alike will appreciate the splendid writing in these two new anthologies edited by well-loved Canadian children's authors, Sarah Ellis and Tim Wynne-Jones. The short stories, novel excerpts and picture book texts featured here are some of Canada's best examples of writing for middle readers and the younger side of young adults. They range in tone from Brian Doyle's dark and poignant short story, "Pincher", to Thomas King's off-the-wall, "A Coyote Columbus Story". While four short stories were specifically commissioned by Wynne-Jones including stories by Doyle, Richard Scrimger, William Bell and Ken Roberts, Ellis's anthology only includes one previously unpublished piece by Deirdre Baker.

For the most part the editors have drawn on the writings of Canada's most well established children's and young adult authors: Joan Bodger, Linda Holeman, Julie Johnston, William Bell and Martha Brooks, just to name a few. There are, however, surprises from some lesser known sources as well, like an excerpt from Teresa Toten's hilarious, "The Only house" and two stories from the Fifth House anthology, Achimoona.

Teachers hoping to use Boy's Own and Girl's Own in tandem should be aware of some differences between the two. In both collections, the editor introduces each selection with a few establishing paragraphs. Wynne-Jones's first-person introductions, although occasionally corny and a bit heavy on exclamation marks, are amusing and highly readable. He almost becomes a character in Boy's Own¨your host, Tim Wynne-Jones, as it were¨linking the stories together. Ellis's introductions, on the other hand, are much more conventional and a bit disappointing when compared to Wynne-Jones's chatty rambles.

The most noticeable difference between the two books is Ellis's decision to use predominantly novel excerpts. Wynne-Jones includes only four, concentrating instead on the short story. Both are legitimate choices, but Wynne-Jones has the easier job. Ideally, an excerpt should be somewhat self-contained, leaving the reader content with the bit of the story she has gotten, but interested in what comes next. Ellis almost always gets this right. The chapters from Cora Taylor's Julie and Kit Pearson's The Daring Game are completely engaging, almost short story-like in the sense of closure that their endings bring. Deborah Ellis's The Breadwinner and Joan Clark's The Moons of Madeline leave us hanging, but only enough to whet the appetite, not enough to feel cheated. However, excerpts from Julie Johnson's Hero of Lesser Causes and Bill Richardson's After Hamlin are less satisfying. In both cases, too many characters and events have been introduced before the passage begins. Ellis glosses over what has been missed, but the explanation is not enough to prevent confusion.

In spite of these few concerns, Boy's Own and Girl's Own will undoubtedly have readers rushing to the library to discover more books by their newly discovered favorite authors. Hopefully, young people will not feel bound to read only the anthology that corresponds to their sex as both books include stories to be enjoyed by all.

Lena Coakley is a children's writer and reviewer who lives in Toronto

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