The ACB with Honora Lee (2012), by Kate De Goldi

Drawings by Gregory O’Brien.

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 19.4.

The ACB with Honora Lee

De Goldi - ACBPerry collects dead and dying bumblebees; she is fascinated by them; she “was thinking of becoming a zoologist when she grew up” (8). Bumblebees, however, are only one of Perry’s fascinations: she loves most aspects of the world around her, drawing the things and people that interest her in a style that reflects her feelings about them. She often annoys her loving but too-busy professional parents with her questions and her childishly logical view of the world. She is unconventional, she learns, revelling in the new word. She is, in fact, “wrong in all the right ways,” to quote a popular song, and young readers will love her and her approach to her world.

Perry’s life is over-scheduled, but when her Music and Movement teacher strains her back and cancels class for the semester, Thursdays become free. Perry comes up with the solution: she will visit her grandmother at Santa Lucia, the care-home with a community elderly people who intrigue Perry. Perry, with her unconventional ways, appreciates the residents’ eccentricities as much as they appreciate her attention and understanding. Together, to complete a school assignment, Perry, her grandmother, Honora Lee, and their friends, create an abecedary: but “It’s not really an ABC … It’s an ADV, so far. Gran does it out of order” (46).

Perry and her “accomplices” take the reader though the process of learning language and a multitude of disconnected facts, at that same time as they develop their patience, acceptance, and affection. The ACB with Honora Lee is written in an engaging child’s voice, and the illustrations effectively express the tangential ideas that form in Perry’s head. The one improvement would be if the illustrations mirrored the text’s description of Perry’s art; her ideas and interpretations are unique, and we would like to see them on the page. Overall, though, The ACB with Honora Lee reveals strongly how a both the child’s and the elderly person’s alternative view of the world can enrich the lives of those around them—if only others take the time to listen.

Boy Meets Dog: A Word Game Adventure (2013), by Valerie Wyatt

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 19.3.

Illustrated by Dave Whamond

Wyatt-BoyWhen I was in elementary school, our teacher would reward us for efficient work habits by giving out pages with fun, topical challenges: for Language Arts, these included word searches, crosswords, and—my favourite—word ladders. Valerie Wyatt’s Boy Meets Dog is a fabulous compendium of word ladders—short and long—each translating one word into another associated word. Thus a “cat becomes a dog,” “a house might become a mouse, and then a moose,” “tiny may become huge,” and “rain can change to snow.” The ladders range in length from 1 change (toy to boy) to as many as 9 changes (safe to whew). Together, the ladders tell a simple story of a toy becoming a boy, and his cat becoming a dog. The two travel through a childish adventure, short ladders to long and back again to the simple retransformation of the boy back to a toy: “But a dog is too loyal to change.”

More than just a story, Boy Meets Dog is, as advertised, an adventure in words. Children will love the excitement encouraged by Dave Whamond’s lively illustrations, and gratified by the fun and interesting language tricks they learn.

Daisy’s Defining Day (2013), by Susan Feder and Susan Mitchell

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 18.5.

Daisy’s Defining Day

Daisy and her classmates are learning the basics of poetics, starting with rhyming words, and moving on to alliteration. The story is peppered with uses of the two poetic techniques, which young readers will love. The language is fun, the story engaging, the messages subtle and effective.
More than most kids, “Daisy loved words. She kept track of her favorite words in a green notebook with purple polka dots” (8). When her neighbour, Grant, comes up with the rhyming nickname “Lazy Daisy,” which he “didn’t even have to think twice before saying” (21), she learns the power of words to hurt. She eventually comes up with a new name for herself that she feels defines her, and is hers because she chose it, but it turns out to be too long and complicated for people to use regularly. In this, she learns that words must be appropriate for effective communication. She still doesn’t like “Lazy Daisy,” though, and works hard to prove to Grant that she isn’t lazy. When Grant comments, “Too bad lazy doesn’t rhyme with my name,” Daisy realizes that his taunt has nothing to do with her work ethics, but was only a naïve pairing of sounds, not intended to hurt her: like her, Grant likes the way words sound together; she thus realizes that feeling hurt and angry was unnecessary. The overt message in Daisy’s Defining Day—other then the simple joy of having fun with words—is that communicating can solve problems. The hidden message is similar but more complex: what the speaker says and what the listener hears are not always the same, and both matter. This very important lesson in communication is subtle, but powerful enough that young readers will imbibe it along with the more obvious lessons presented.

Bosley Sees the World (2012), by Tim Johnson

Bosley is quite the adorable little bear.  The illustration of his world and his bearness all work together to present a very friendly, yet vibrant aesthetic, a good choice on the part of author/illustrator Tim Johnson, who tells the story of an adventurous young bear out to discover his world. Young Bosley Bear, fascinated by his world, steps out of his comfort zone to explore what lies beyond his cave, beyond his forest. What lies there is another challenge: a mountain taller than any of the trees he has climbed. From the top of the mountain, Bosley looks down, back through the forest to his cave, and decides to return to the safety of his home.

The repetitive language (“He stretched his front paws. He stretched his back paws.”) serves multiple purposes: it creates an effective sense of rhythm in the narrative; it reinforces the learning of phonics and written word; and it exposes cross-language learners to a new vocabulary: for Johnson’s book is a dual-language text, with English and an alternate language (in the case of the edition I read: Spanish) on one page. The pattern of repetition could be more carefully use to this advantage; there is nothing wrong with Johnson’s prose, except that it brings memories of other, more successful books to mind too readily (although it is unfair to expect everyone to be Maurice Sendak). Similarly, the actual way that the text is superimposed over the delightful images impedes on the enjoyment of the reading experience; a number of other aesthetic options would create a blending of text and image that is less visually jarring. The final criticism of the text lies more deeply in the story. An easy alteration would render the story more meaningful: Bosley embarks on his quest for adventure, leaves his cave, traverses the forest, climbs a mountain, looks back at the great world he is a part of, and … nothing:

“That will have to wait until another day.
It’s too big for me now.”
And Bosley walked back to his tiny cave.

… He curled up in his little bed and dreamed about the big world.
He would explore it all someday.
He knew it.

The End.”

The narrative structure is fine, but there needs be a stronger sense of epiphany in Bosley’s mountain-top realization. Perhaps I am being too harsh, but at the end of a picture book, as much as a novel, we like a sense of emotional accomplishment, not only effective dénouement and closure.  This slight deficiency prevents Bosley Sees the World from rising into the higher echelons of children’s picture books; it is nonetheless a delightful story with much—notably the dual-language format—to recommend it.

When I read Bosley Sees the World , it was provided by the author in .pdf format; it has, however, recently been made available at