Saturday, December 17, 2011

Reader's Diary #783- Troy Townsin and illustrations by Jennifer Harrington: 3 Canadian Christmas picture books

I once offered Kraft Dinner and a hockey puck as a prize in my Canadian Book Challenge. Lord knows I'm not against Canadian stereotyping. Canadian Jingle Bells, A Moose in a Maple Tree, and the The Night Before a Canadian Christmas, by Troy Townsin and illustrated by Jennifer Harrington, abound in such stereotypes. The children who are nestled have visions of poutine instead of sugarplums. I should love these books. Sadly, I don't.

What went wrong? First and foremost it's the poorly scanning poems. Try this to the tune of the "dashing through the snow" part of Jingle Bells: Up in Nunavut/ among the caribou/ we see an inuksuk/ and a seal-skin canoe. Awkward, right? Try this one from The Night Before a Canadian Christmas: He touched his finger to his nose and/ just stepped out into the night,/ where his beaver team were on/ the deck having a snowball fight.

Plus I'm not so sure about Townsin's references. Santa's reindeer, for instance, were replaced by beavers named Gretzky, Trudeau, Shania and Loonie, Bob and Doug, Suzuki and Toonie. Cute, but I'm not sure how many of these kids would get. It's less problematic than the the difficult rhythm of the poems, as kids don't need to get all the references and like the movies aimed at this age group, I'm sure it's just to keep the adults smiling. But I just suffered through the latest Chipmunk movie and I'm less tolerant. (Seriously, a "I'm king of the world" joke? No kid gets the Titanic nod and every adult is tired of that joke from a thousand other spoofs. Enough!)

And the illustrations, while passable, aren't spectacular enough to save these books.

But it is Christmas, and I should say on a positive note, after hearing them all on the previous day, my son did, on his own accord, choose the Moose in a Maple Tree book for a nighttime read-aloud. I would agree that it's the most tolerable of the 3 books but his endorsement should mean more than mine in any case.

I should also add the disclaimer that these were given to me as review copies and partial proceeds from the sale of these books go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I hope you realize what a moral dilemma it gave me to give such a negative review. So to ease my guilt I've donated $60 (the cost of these 3 books) to the Make-a-Wish foundation. In the meantime, if I've discouraged you from buying Townsin's books but you still want to find some Canadian titles for the holidays, I made this list a few years back and just last month, fellow blogger Medea came up with this list. And give generously to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Those are rather clunky poems! They do make me grateful that I don't have youngsters, though.

Unknown said...

I've enjoyed your blog and rarely make comments on blogs, but this I had to.

Both of these books have been a hit with our family, friends, and our students. I watched a group of early teens perform the song and its rare to see such enthusiasm from this age group. My own younger children love the book and it has them interested in learning about all the different provinces. They had never heard of a scoff and scuff or the Blue Nose Two.

As for The Night Before a Canadian Christmas - I absolutely love this book and its been a hit with everyone I've shared it with. It is meant to instigate discussion about Canadianisms ... if children don't know Suzuki, Trudeau, Gretzky etc.. they should - use this as a teaching moment. My kids love the start.. 'Twas the night before Christmas and all round the house not a creature was stirring except for a moose and especially loved the illustration of the moose tangled in lights pulling the skidoo behind him.

Merry Chrismas Eh!

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Clunky is a good descriptor.

Em: Not sure how knowing who Bob and Doug Mckenzie are benefits anyone, whether you like their comedy or not.
Nor do you rationalize away the awkward scanning. Glad you and your friends enjoyed them. Merry Christmas.

Unknown said...

Thanks John - to be honest I didn't find it awkward... less awkward than the original..

Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And then we got upsot.

A gent was riding by In a one-horse open sleigh, He laughed as there I sprawling lie, But quickly drove away.

Anyway we've had a lot of fun with it and please don't take my comments personally.... although I disagree with this review... I still look forward to your next.