Monday, May 4, 2009

National Treasure: Barbara Reid

Barbara Reid is another one of Canada's great children's authors, and may be familiar to many of you, whether you know of her full range of books or not. Many of her books are favourites, but only one small and lesser-known set have gone into a series, making her somewhat less well-known than she ought to be. She is an illustrator of other people's books as well as an author/illustrator, so you may even have seen her art without ever having read what she has written herself. Either way, you should just make sure you know she has a good handful of wonderful books to be discovered.

What's so special about her, that I should call her a national treasure? I first became aware of her for her illustrations, which are phenomenal. A master of plastiscine, she shapes, blends, and texturizes with more detail than anyone I have seen in this medium, and even, sometimes, incorporates little bits of found stuff into the images, giving them an extra dimension of real life. Not only are her details incredible, but she has a gift for faces, something I always appreciate in an artist. So after enjoying her work on Jo Ellen Bogart's Gifts and Beverley Allinson's Effie, most notably, I began to notice her own work, and loved it even more. It turns out that as great as her genius for the image, her skill as a storyteller matches it. She uses lovely storytellerly details that give her stories a feel of modern fairy tales, and when she uses rhyme, she does it with skill and a nice, readable metre. Treasure, indeed. Here are some of my favourites:

Subway Mouse

This is one of her tales that is at once thoroughly modern, taking place in a subway system inhabited by a gang of tattooed mice, yet retains something of the air of a classic tale in its journey and its delightfully satisfying ending. Toronto readers will recognize a lot of details, and this work is an example of her incorporating lots of scraps of real objects that work perfectly to bring her already nicely detailed world that much closer to perfection.

The Golden Goose

I adore this twist on fairy tales and their often-spoiled princesses. Here, a pragmatic and earth-loving girl is completely misunderstood by her loving but status-conscious father, who wants to buy her some happiness and in his attempts, destroys the very things that she loves. In the end, her story fortunately intersects with that of a young man who has found a golden goose and is being tailed by a gaggle of greedy townspeople. The two hit it off perfectly, and are able to return her favourite places to the little patch of what they consider heaven. Her father may be left scratching his head, but he's happy she's happy, and all is well with a nice, modest couple. Sweet, full of great values without talking about them, and charming in its execution, I have given this as a gift more than once.

The Party

Anyone who has attended a big family party will appreciate how well she picks up on what goes on, from an aunt's big smooch to chasing around with cousins to the sleepy ride home later than usual. it's note perfect, and the rhyming works nicely, something I always watch for.

Zoe's Sunny Day / Rainy Day / Windy Day / Snowy Day

This set of simple books tells about what Zoe gets up to in different types of weather, and make a great introduction to talking about weather. Perfect for toddlers and early preschoolers, they are short and capture what it's like to be a young kid at the mercy of the outdoors and your mother's dictates.

Sing a Song of Mother Goose

She may not be an author in the truest sense of the word here, but she has put together one of my favourite collections of nursery rhymes, right up there with those illustrated by Rosemary Wells and by Kady MacDonald Denton, some illustrious (ha!) company, if ever there was.

Fox Walked Alone and Two By Two

These stories are both about Noah's Ark, but the Fox version is told from the point of view of the fox. Reid has said that she wrote it partly to try to answer some of the many questions the story had raised for her. If you are planning to introduce a child to this tale, one or both of these would be a wonderful way to do it.

Fun With Modeling Clay

In this how-to art book, Reid shares some of her tips and tricks to teach kids how to play with clay. Imagine, lessons from the master... A great way to extend her stories, to bring the concept of illustration home more fully to children, or add an extra dimension to an author study.

Originally posted on Better Than a Playdate.

1 comment:

  1. Pk adores Barbara Reid (which I see as being early signs of good taste!). We must read a Zoe book at least twice a day (and since Zoe is a redhead, I think Pk thinks they are about her. She is also a big fan of The Gift (illustrations by Barbara Reid, I can't remember who wrote the text).