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.


  1. It's amazing to me how difficult and actually painful most children's books are to read aloud (Margaret Atwood, I'm looking at you). One of the best I've come across lately is an X-Men comic book not actually written for children. Comic-book melodrama rolls surprisingly smoothly off the tongue. (Speaking of tongues, that is.)

  2. Ooh, thanks for this! I will check those out, since I missed them.


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