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Book Reviews

Carson Crosses Canada

by Kass Reich (ill.); Linda Bailey

My Canada: An Illustrated Atlas

by Katherine Dearlove; Lori Joy Smith (ill.)

9781101918838

Among new books celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial are two children’s titles with a focus on geography. Both give readers a sense of the different landforms and attractions that characterize our vast country.

My Canada: An Illustrated Atlas comprises a kid-friendly collection of maps with tiny, labelled pictures. Author Katherine Dearlove – former editor of ChickaDEE and Chirp – begins with a question: “When you think of Canada, what comes to mind?” Dearlove piques readers’ interest with nods to history and whets their appetites for a feast of “museums and monuments, wildlife and waterways, sights and shorelines,” all of which “tell a story about Canada.” A legend indicates symbols for cities, capitals, and national parks.

Next, a trivia page features fun facts, including language-related statistics and superlative statements about size. There is a full-page map of Canada, but the real momentum kicks in on the following pages, with interest-packed spreads showcasing illustrated maps for each province and territory.

Prince Edward Island illustrator Lori Joy Smith’s digitally created maps cater to an audience of young explorers and backseat travellers. Information including the flag and official symbols for each province is presented, but it’s the site-specific icons that creatively characterize each region. Maps include a title, a compass rose, clearly marked borders, and insets showing the area’s location in Canada. Magnifications feature details of built-up sections.

Parks with Indigenous names, Aboriginal heritage centres, and First Nations, Métis, and Inuit historic sites are marked, except in P.E.I. and New Brunswick. Readers in New Brunswick and Quebec might be disappointed to find only one or two illustrations featuring people on the maps of their home provinces. In contrast, British Columbia and Ontario show folks surfing, skiing, hiking, biking, camping, toasting marshmallows, swimming, and whitewater rafting. Scales – standard components on maps – are not included. Quibbles aside, My Canada is sure to send adventure-bound readers digging to find out more about the features labelled in this atlas.

Similarly, the endpapers of Carson Crosses Canada – the heartwarming new picture book by prolific Vancouver author Linda Bailey – include a handcrafted map of Canada that illustrates the route the protagonists take on their cross-country journey from west to east. Numbered points correspond to stops they make and a legend indicates place names for each stop, not all of which are named in the story.

As the book opens, grey-haired Annie and her dog, Carson, are living in Tofino. When Annie finds out her sister, Elsie, is sick, she announces to Carson that they are taking a road trip to visit her. Annie drives her “rattlebang car” through the rainforests of B.C., the Rocky Mountains, the Hoodoos, and the Prairies, then on to Niagara Falls, Quebec City, the Bay of Fundy, and P.E.I., before arriving at Elsie’s home in Newfoundland’s Witless Bay.

Classic dog humour abounds, such as when Carson leaves behind “a little souvenir of his own” at a rest stop. Playing with a squeaky toy, finding a huge bone, chasing his tail, and rolling in mud lend authenticity to the canine’s experience. Apart from a brief reference to “days of rocks and trees,” some regions are deftly skirted over to keep the story clipping along. Repeated words and descriptions stitch the story together beautifully.

Kass Reich’s artwork employs vivid, hand-painted gouache with digital details. Among the stack of camping supplies in the opening spread, readers spy items like an inner tube that reappear later in the story. Body language in the artwork reveals tender connections between characters. Everyone is having fun: arms wave, tails wag, and hands extend warmly.

Assuredly, the positive energy evident in both these books celebrates the diverse regions that make our land shine.