When Santa Was a Baby (2015), by Linda Bailey

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 21.1.

Illustrated by Geneviève Godbout.

When Santa Was A Baby

Bailey - Santa BabyThis review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume xxx

The first thing that strikes one about When Satan Was a Baby is Geneviève Goudbout’s clever artistic style, which replicates the wrapping paper and illustration of Christmases in the 1960s and 1970s. The muted autumnal pastel drawings, the pencil-crayon poinsettias against the moss-green background, the red button noses and shiny apple cheeks of the characters: all these speak of a heartwarming nostalgia that is reinforced by the story.

Linda Bailey’s Santa is a normal little boy… except for his booking baby voice, and maybe his love of red over every other colour, and perhaps his propensity for re-wrapping his birthday presents… Things begin to become clearer to the reader when he harnesses his hamsters to a matchbox to pull around the house. Part of the joy for the young reader will be that Santa’s parents still haven’t figured it out. “Extraordinary!” his father proclaims; “He’s so creative!” coos his mother. “Don’t they get it?!” the young reader will ask in an exasperated, or perhaps superior, voice.

Bailey’s humour is giggle-inducing and sustained throughout the story; allusions to perhaps the most famous Santa poem—“A Visit from St. Nicholas”—are subtle and effective. The story is all wrapped up neatly in the end, when Santa’s parents comment, with a revisionist view of his youth, “That’s what we always thought he’d do … We knew it all the time.” And Santa replies “HO HO HO!”

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Two White Rabbits (2015) by Jairo Buitrago

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 21.1.

Two White Rabbits

Illustrated by Rafael Yockteng

Buitrago - RabbitsThis review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume xxx

“The little girl in this story is travelling with her father, but she doesn’t know where they are going,” begins the dust-jacket description. As a premise, it is “moving and timely,” but the story we are given mostly confuses. A child reader, encountering the first few pages, will view it as a counting book. “When we travel, I count what I see…” are the first words the narrator gives us. The next 6 page-spreads are about counting: animals, birds, “people who live by the tracks,” the clouds… But as a counting book, it is disappointing. First, the narrator counts the animals in the barnyard: four hens, five cows, and the dog who travels with them, but she misses the seven chicks watched over by the hens; second, there are 42 birds in the sky, not the 50 she claims to count. Small things, perhaps, but the sort of detail young readers often grab on to and would find frustrating.

The destination-less travel, combined with the expressive illustrations of migrant workers, creates a powerful sense of unease (obviously intentional) and manages to synthesize very successfully the child’s experience of trust in her father with the insecurity of their flight. The soldiers that appear in both the text and illustrations, though, bring up questions that would perhaps be better to have answered. With neither a “whither” nor a (perhaps more important) “why” to the journey, there is too great a sense of troubling confusion. The father and daughter spend some time with a boy and his grandmother, who give the girl two white rabbits along with pitying glances as they leave. So in the end, the girl has “two white rabbits” to count… and we are no closer to knowing anything about their story.

Ready, Set, Kindergarten! (2015), by Paula Ayers

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 21.1.

Ready, Set, Kindergarten!

Illustrated by Danielle Arbour.

Ayer - KindergartenReady, Set, Kindergarten! shows us a young girl excited about her first day of kindergarten, and (seemingly) the activities she finds there: getting ready, spotting letters in signs as she walks with her mother (assumedly to school); painting, cutting paper, playing outside, but then… “baking a cake with a bucket and sand” in her swimsuit. All of a sudden she is not at kindergarten, but in various other spaces: at the beach, at home in the bathroom, having a tea party with her dolls, in a play room fighting with a friend—because of course we need to introduce conflict so the character can have something to learn in terms of acceptable social behaviour, like being ready to say she’s sorry—helping with dinner, getting ready for bed, eating breakfast, getting dressed, going to kindergarten… wait, what? What was she doing on the first page, then?

The storyline is convoluted at best. While we follow the little girl though her day, we have been expecting something more to do with kindergarten than just being ready for various aspects of life (including kindergarten, which she apparently goes to the next day). Aside from the repetition of the word “ready,” there is no rhyme, nor rhythm, and the text becomes unmemorable. Children respond well to words that lilt, as much as to images that cause pleasure, sight and sound together resting in their memories or inciting their imaginations. While the illustrations in Ready, Set, Kindergarten! are delightfully lively and colourful, they do not quite redeem a text that has very little to recommend it.

Share (2014), by Sally Anne Garland

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 20.1.

Garland - ShareShare describes a situation than most children will relate to. I have certainly heard my own mother tell this story repeatedly: the older child is asked to share, and the younger child doesn’t get the idea. The older child obligingly shares, and moves to another toy, only to have the younger child demand that as well. This is intensely frustrating for the older child (in this case bunny), and I think Sally Anne Garland has captured this frustration admirably. The young bunny wants to be just like his older cousin; once the older cousin realizes her position as mentor—or hero—her attitude changes, and what was frustrating becomes gratifying. That the young bunny in Garland’s book does actually show his affection in the end solidifies Garland’s message. In the end, Share is not so much about sharing as it is about patience, compassion, and setting a good example.

While the message is solid and effectively presented, and the illustrations delightful, Share falls short in terms of its poetry. Often, the lines do not scan; this is especially problematic when the lines also span across page breaks, the interruptions adding to the disjuncture created by the jerky rhythm. With a little more attention to the poetry, Share would be excellent; as it is, the story and message and illustrations still work together to create a pleasing, if not poetically inspired, whole.