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Picture perfect children's books


By Joan Clark and Kady MacDonald Denton

Groundwood Books, 2006

32 pages, $16.95

The Huron Carol

Illustrated by Ian Wallace

Groundwood Books

32 pages, $16.95

Reviewed by Vivian Moreau

Although my children are now teenagers there are certain picture books I’ve kept, ostensibly saving for grandchildren but which I secretly delight in pulling out every now and then and savouring in solitude.

Picture books are by their nature visual, but when well done they are works of art. Designed to appeal to preschoolers who can’t read, the illustrations engage children through cohesive plot and thoughtfully rendered pages that keep readers focused on the story.

Kady MacDonald Denton is one of Canada’s most prolific and respected children’s book illustrators. Her work has won many awards, including the Governor-General’s and the Mr. Christie. Snow, with story line by Joan Clark, is about what a small boy imagines might go on in the world underneath after a record snowfall blankets his house and town.

MacDonald Denton is a Peterborough, Ontario resident and perhaps has heard children in her neighbourhood making up other snowy lives within their own, but either way the illustrator has managed to capture the immensity and variety of the white stuff with her cheerful watercolours. Simple, single-page, borderless scenes of central character Sammy lead up to a blue on blue double-page opportunity when the snow finally stops and the pre-schooler can head outside to build and play in his own snowy world, both real and imaginary. Bears with cubs, whales and seals, wooly mammoths, ships locked in ice might be frolicking beneath Sammy’s feet, as well as show-stopping page to page Northern Lights, Santa’s workshop and hey, even ice-cream sodas and iced tea if you can imagine them.

MacDonald Denton, with Clark’s uncomplicated text, has created a book destined for the “keep for the grandchildren” collection.

Ian Wallace is an equally talented and prolific illustrator, but of a different gradient and degree. Wallace, a former Toronto resident who now lives in Boston, creates lush, intense illustrations, often veering away from the ubiquitous primary colours many illustrators think young children favour. His latest project, designed for children aged four and up, is a rendering of the Canadian classic, The Huron Carol.

Wallace takes risks with electric blues and smoky earth tones, retelling a version of the birth of Christ originally told by Jesuit missionary, Father Jean de Brebeuf to the Ouendat nation in the early 1600s.

In a time when public schools have veered away from Christmas pageants in favour of winter celebrations it is oddly refreshing to revisit how one of Canada’s first immigrants might have explained the source of Christianity to First Nations. Although some may question the resulting devastation the Catholic church brought, even in this translation there remains the resonance of the profound respect de Brebeuf must have had for the people he lived with and amongst, originally crafting this story in Huron.

Wallace’s book, which includes lyrics and music of a 1926 version of the carol, has provided a lush gathering of 13 double-page paintings with bears and rabbits gathered round a very special baby that sustains a story that ultimately speaks to community and hope.