December 19, 2013

Christmas stories from the Maritimes

A Maritime Christmas Treasury: Stories, Songs, and Poems to Celebrate the Season

Nimbus Publishing has put together a cheerful and heart-warming collection of Christmas tales and poems. As with many compilations, there are hits and misses, but overall, the volume makes for fun holiday reading. It begins well with the hilarious Gadzooks: The Christmas Goose before becoming a little sentimental with A Christmas Dollhouse, which also suffers from a minor editing problem (a few words were missing in my review copy). Snow for Christmas is short and sweet, Love from Katie is the most heartfelt, while The True Meaning of Crumbfest puts a unique spin on the traditional Christmas tale (although having the names in all-caps was slightly distracting). 

A Forest for Christmas is the longest story. It's a fantasy about a girl named Emily who can talk to birds and animals, a magic hat, and a villain named Buggleysmug. He wants to cut down the forest to build a whatzit factory, so it's up to Emily and the animals to save it. The story has the most full-page illustrations, adding to its appeal. 

Unfortunately, when stories are condensed into compilations such as these, pictures tend to get smaller or are cut altogether. I was disappointed that the twelve drummers drumming were excluded from A Bluenose Twelve Days of Christmas. It would be best to seek out the picture book version instead.

Interspersed between the stories are nostalgic holiday poems, including one by Louisa May Alcott. Her poem nicely recalls the joy of Christmas.

This is my final post of the year. Look for new reviews beginning January 8, 2014.

December 17, 2013

Message of the Birds

by Kate Westerlund 

Long ago, a baby was born in a stable. The animals and birds listened to the baby's coos and heard a song of blessing. But now, the old owl says, people rarely listen to the song anymore. A young robin suggests that they sing the song to children, for children would listen and understand. So the song is passed from bird to bird and child to child, calling for peace on Earth.

A gentle picture book for quiet holiday reading.

December 11, 2013

Play outside!

Step Outside
by Doretta Groenendyk
(Acorn Press)

"Hey you! Yes you!Doretta Groenendyk calls, "Unplug yourself and step outside". Turn off the computer, remove the headphones, and unplug the cords. Instead: dance in the rain, fly a kite, play in the dark, climb a tree, explore your neighborhood, or just be, for the world holds a promise waiting to be discovered.

Groenendyk's collage illustrations using photos, watercolours, words and paints encompass entire pages, inviting children to walk right in. A vibrant welcome to the world out-of-doors.

December 4, 2013

Story saved by pictures

by Marion Lewis

Kaugjagjuk and his sister are separated from their parents when they become trapped on an ice floe. Carried to a distant shore, they struggle to survive. Kaugjagjuk's sister does not make it, but Kaugjagjuk comes across a small village. Unfortunately, the villagers are very cruel and subject Kaugjagjuk to more hardship. Loved only by the dogs, Kaugjagjuk is helped by the Man of the Moon, who whips him until he has grown tall and strong. With his strength, Kaugjagjuk is able to kill three polar bears that threaten the village. The villagers finally regret their mistreatment of Kaugjagjuk, but he walks away.

In an epilogue, Lewis explains the meaning of the Kaugjagjuk legend, and in an author's note, talks about the different adaptations of the story. Often, these adaptations are quite violent and bleak. Lewis' version is more positive; however, children may find it a bit unsettling. It may help if they're encouraged to think of an alternate ending. Remind them that Kaugjagjuk is not alone, he still has the dogs for company.