Reading this book is like eavesdropping at a party where the guests discuss a single theme: important books in their childhood. What fun to learn that Timothy Findley’s childhood favourite, Wild Animals I Have Known, was set in Toronto’s Don Valley. It is touching to know that Mordecai Richler came to love the work of a German writer during the Second World War. And anyone who makes dismissive remarks about L.M. Montgomery can now be told that Alice Munro, Jane Urquhart, Budge Wilson, and Kit Pearson were all significantly influenced by the Emily books. So the gossip value of this book is almost limitless.
But Arlene Perly Rae, a former children’s book reviewer for The Toronto Star, had more than gossip in mind when she assembled this collection. The responses of famous Canadians, mostly writers, but also actors, broadcasters, visual artists, musicians, politicians, and CEOs, are arranged thematically into chapters, beginning with picture books, progressing to adventure stories, classics, nature books, poetry, and popular reading, then veering into adolescence. Personal details aside, there are some interesting revelations about the books themselves. The Story of Ping is easily the best beloved picture book. The aforementioned Emily books are so significant they merit their own chapter. And some titles dear to more than one prominent Canadian, particularly The Royal Road to Romance, have long been consigned to oblivion.
Rae’s introduction to each chapter provides historical context and critical analysis, and appendixes include lists of important children’s books and award winners. But the project must have been an organizational nightmare. So many contributors crammed so many books into their responses that it was necessary to create a chapter called “An Abundance of Books.” Rae may have felt constrained not to alter her contributors’ words, but a stronger editorial hand would have been appropriate sometimes. There are also problems with repetition in the introductions to chapters when previously discussed titles are reintroduced. These quibbles aside, Everybody’s Favourites is both entertaining and informative. Anyone wishing to learn a great deal about children’s literature painlessly and in a relatively short time should certainly read this book.