Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Big Fish and Bigger Fishermen

Who doesn't love a tall tale, a well-spun yarn of daring and determination?

I've recently fallen in love with Kenneth Oppel's Peg books:

Peg and the Whale (illustrated by Terry Widener; Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2000)

Peg and the Yeti (illustrated by Barbara Reid; Haper Collins, 2004).

In them, strapping young Peg sets out to conquer the world. She's pushing seven when her story begins and, well, that Peg, "she want(s) big, she want(s) better, she want(s) best." And what could be better than to catch a whale or to climb to the top of Mount Everest?

Peg hails from Newfoundland, if we are to go by her penchant for salt cod and pork scruncheons. Her narrator definitely has a down-home, east coast lilt. In fact, Oppel's prose sits on the tip of the tongue like it was meant to live there. Reading these books aloud to children is nothing short of a delight. The warmth and whimsy of Oppel's language is matched in the illustrations by Widener and Reid, both of whom use warm oranges, reds and yellows to set Peg off from the daunting cool blues, blacks and whites that surround her. No matter how great the threat to Peg (and that Yeti is some fearsome), the reader can't help but feel the warm comfort that both narration and illustration afford.

If you're looking for tall tales with regional flair for teens, look no further than New Brunswicker Stuart Trueman's Tall Tales and True Tales from Down East (McClelland and Stewart, 1979.) Trueman won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour in 1969 and it shows in his easy narration of understated wit:

"But the laughing ringmaster, clad in green satin suit, was none other than the dentist Painless Parker. He had bought a marooned circus for 50,000, and was putting it to work advertising him up and down the Pacific coast.

Most surprisingly, he wasn't an American at all. He was a member of a northern race notorious for innate conservatism, stolidity and shyness.

He was a Canadian."

The 22 stories that comprise this collection include Acadian folklore, Mi'kmaq-Malliseet legend, and various bits of Maritime history, personality and lore. If you want to know the full story behind Fredericton's famous Coleman Frog, for instance, you need look no further.

Tall Tales and True Tales from Down East
is appropriate for older children, teens and adults alike. The book is out of print but copies abound in Maritime libraries and used copies can be found for purchase online.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It's fall, it's fall. Come one, come all!

The Fredericton fall fair opens this weekend, FREX as it's known around town. I'll be there-- with wet wipes for cotton candy fingers and a camera to capture that perfect wide-eyed merry-go-round moment. Before you head out to your local fall fair, I recommend hitting the library first to find a copy of Merry-Go-Day written by Fredericton native Sheree Fitch and illustrated by long-time Fredericton artist Molly Lamb Bobak (Doubleday, 1991; no longer in print).

The inspiration for the book comes from FREX, specifically, but it is suited to any old fair-going experience. Laid out as a series of poems that walks the reader through the sights and sounds of a day at the fair, the book is as crisp as a McIntosh apple. If you've never read Fitch's tongue tantalizing verse out-loud, Merry-Go-Day is a must for this Labour Day weekend. Here's an excerpt:

"Sam Sam
The hammer slammer
Always rings the bell
When Sam
The hammer-slammer
Everybody yells:

Slam that hammer
Sam the slammer
Hammer-slamming Sam
Sam the hammer-slamming

Merry-Go-Day is a perfectly indulgent day out. Fitch takes us on the bumper cars, a roller coaster, and the Ferris Wheel; she feeds us hot dogs, ice cream and cotton candy; we get just a little spooked in the Haunted House; and we play a game of chance. The question is, will we win that purple parrot our heart's desire? You'll have to check the book out to know.

About Mouse-traps and the Moon

I, lucky librarian that I am, get to spend my day with children's books. The collection I curate is the largest of its kind in Atlantic Canada, with holdings that are diverse, as well as serendipitous, built up over time by collection founder and benefactor, Eileen Wallace. A significant collection strength is historical and contemporary Atlantic Canadian Books for Children.

On this blog, I will showcase material from the collection as well as ramble on about children's and YA literature and some of the cultural issues that impinge upon them. As the mother of a pre-schooler, I will also share some of my daughter's lists of favourite books.

As for the title of this blog, it is taken from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and is spoken by the Dormouse at the Mad Hatter's tea party: "mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness-- you know you say things are 'much of a muchness'--did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?"