A Guide to Canadian Children's Books|
by Deirdre Baker and Ken Setterington
by Mike Barnes
by Sally Cooper
by Brian E. Pearson
by Peter Darbyshire
Butterflies Dance in the Dark
by Beatrice MacNeil
Post Your Opinion
by Jeffrey Canton
Deirdre Baker and Ken Setterington have aimed high to create an interesting and exciting compendium of the best Canadian books for young readers. Guided, as they tell us in their introduction, by a passion and love for language, the desire to share these unique and individual books themselves and, perhaps most importantly, by the joy and excitement of helping to bring together kids with "stories that might really touch, inspire, and excite them," they have, for the most part, provided a first-class introduction that is chockfull of some really great Canadian children's books. In addition, the Guide is well organized, informative and will undoubtedly help parents, teachers, librarians and anyone who cares about the books today's kids are reading to make informed choices about what Canadian children's books to choose for their children. Knowing that every child has needs of his or her own, the authors have grouped books using a number of general categories but with sufficient foresight to suggest within these divisions books that a good reader might also find challenging even when the title is for a slightly older child. As well as a list of what they consider the crFme de la crFme of Canadian children's literatureła list that without a doubt plays to their own tastesłthere is an extensive subject index and an index that groups books by general geographic regions (the Far North, Mountains, Prairies and Atlantic Canada) and by province and territory.
The major problem is that this guide to Canadian children's books isn't nearly as diverse as a book about contemporary Canadian children's books should be. Obviously it's not possible to include every book that's currently in print but it is important to make sure in a guide like this one that the diversity of our cultural make-up is adequately conveyed. While the authors claim that this guide provides children with access to the manifold voices which, according them, "reflect Canada's historic 'mosaic' approach to multiculturalism," it simply isn't the case. Authors from a number of cultures are certainly represented but readers of this guide might assume, for instance, that there are no novels about South Asian Canadians. The authors left out Rachna Gilmore's Mina's Spring of Colours and A Group of One, Nazneen Sadiq's Camels Make You Homesick and Ann Walsh's Shabash. Why is Paul Yee only represented for his picture books and not for his Young Adult novels, including Teach Me to Fly Skyfighter or Curses of Third Uncle? Where is Ting-xing Ye's White Lily? It's not only in the sections of this book focusing on novels that this disparity becomes obviousłthe only South Asian author included in the picture book section is Rachna Gilmore; where are Sheenaz Nanji's Treasure for Lunch or Manjusha Pawagim's The Girl Who Hated Books? Where are reflections of the Islamic world including Vi Hughes's Aziz the Storyteller or The Girl Who Lost Her Smile both illustrated by Canadian Stefan Czernicki or books like Robert Munsch's From Far Away co-written with Saoussan Askar who was seven years of age when she penned the series of letters to Munsch which became this moving book about the immigrant experience.
The same holds true for the Guide's approach to books by First Nations writers and illustrators. There are so many fine First Nations writers who should be given a place in this kind of guide. Writers who should have been included are Ferguson Plain, Bernelda Wheeler, Iris Loewen, Jordan Wheeler and Lenore Keeshig-Tobias. If Thomas King's Coyote Trickster Tales are including, shouldn't we see some of Joe McLellan's Nanabosho Stories as well? Why is there only one title by Peter Eyvindson, Red Parka Mary, in this guide? It's not that every book he has written is a classic but surely if the annotation for Robert Munsch can refer to several other Munsch titles, the one for Eyvindson could have done the same. The same holds true for African-Canadian writers Richardo Keens-Douglas, Tolowa Mollel and Itah Sadu.
These gaps for me are serious enough to warrant being addressed in follow-up editions. I sincerely hope that there will be future editions because there is certainly a need for a good guide. Obviously a guide like this consists of personal choices but it appears that not quite enough thought was given to the diversity of the audience itself. Canadian kids deserve to see themselves and their experiences reflected in their books. When books like Music from the Sky, the only picture book about Halifax's African-Canadian community or Madeline Thien's Chinese Violin about Chinese Canadians on the West Coast are not included in a guide like this one, I consider it an oversight.
A final quibble would focus on what has been left out of the non-fiction section which, for example, includes Claire Mackay's First Folks and Vile Voyagers but leaves out her marvelous The Toronto Story, nominated for a City of Toronto Book Award. Where is Too Young to Fight, the first Canadian book for children to win the best book at the Bologna International Children's Book Fair? Where are books about Asian Canadians like Arlene Chan's Spirit of the Dragon, Terry Watada's Seeing the Invisible or Paul Yee's Struggle and Hope? It's disappointing in a guide that aims high to see books like The Scoop on Poop, Load 'Em Up Trucks and Animals Eat the Weirdest Things included but excludes books like We Need to Go to School: Voices of the Rugmark Children.
A Guide to Canadian Children's Books is a great first step and Deirdre Baker and Ken Setterington should be congratulated for their work here in bringing together some of the very best Canadian children's books currently in print. However, it's important to keep in mind that this is only a first step and, hopefully, a second edition will do a better job of reflecting the lives of those very readers for whom this book was developed. Obviously some books haven't been included because they were not yet published when the authors finished the manuscript of this guide. Very likely this is why we don't see picture books like Janie Jaehyun Park's Tiger and the Dried Persimmon, Larry Loyie and Constance Brissenden's As Long As The River Flows and Nicholas Debon's A Brave Soldier to name just a few.
Reviewing a guide like this is always a challenge. One always feel strongly that certain writers should have been included whom the authors did not. I'm disappointed not to see books like Marsha Hewitt and Claire Mackay's One Proud Summer, Sarah Withrow's Bat Summer or Box Girl, Veronica Martenova Charles's Stretch, Swallow and Stare, The Crane Girl or Maiden of the Mist and Eva Wiseman's Place Not Home or My Yellow Canary Star. But then this isn't my guide to notable Canadian children's books