I’m a Canadian girl, born and bred, and by “bred” I mean “brought up reading all the classics of Canadian children’s literature.” After a few years living in the USA, I know perfectly well that when I tell Americans that I get a fixed, frozen smile while my polite interlocutor rapidly shuffles through the bookshelves of memory while thinking, “Crap, what did I miss?” Let me save you the pain of that moment: Phoebe Gilman’s Something from Nothing definitely made it south of the border, and so did Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever (give me a second, even typing the title brings tears to my eyes), so you may have heard of those. Both authors wrote lots of other fantastic books which aren’t so common here, and maybe I’ll write about them and all the other great ones (like Dennis Lee, ooh, and Borrowed Black) another time. The problem is, lots of Canadian books really just don’t make it south of that irritating border. That’s why I was totally thrilled when, on two separate occasions, I got home with books I’d grabbed from prominent, face-out displays at the Harvard Book Store, opened them up, and saw they came from Kids Can Press! Good on you, Kids Can Press, for getting your excellent books down here where I can buy them. Let us scatter our writings across the world: bread, circuses, and good books for everyone!
Let’s talk about one of those books: Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds, text and illustrations by Marianne Dubuc; translated by Yvette Ghione. This book is simply charming. Let me start by complimenting the translator: I had no idea I was reading a translation until I finished the book, flipped to see who had published it, and read: “English translation by Yvette Ghione.” Please keep translating, Yvette, OK? You make me want to read the French just to see if it can be as smooth and sometimes witty as your translation.
But what makes this book stand out for me as a book? Well, the story is about a mouse who takes the post to all the other animals around and then brings the last package home and it turns out it’s a gift for his son, Milo. (Yes, a narrow, logical-minded reader might ask why he carried the package around with him all day instead of hiding it under the bed or something, but let’s not be that way, OK? Maybe he just forgot he had it at the bottom of his cart. Shut up and read the story.) It’s a simple, straightforward story, and Marianne Dubuc uses it in an ingenious way: she takes the reader along with her to learn about various animal homes. Let’s look at a rabbit burrow, or a snake’s house, or a squirrel’s nest, or various birds’ nests!
Well, that’s cute, but don’t we have nature books to do that? There are all kinds of great Eyewitness books, or A Bird Is a Bird, or any number of others, right? Well, that’s what I love about this one: it’s not a nature book. It never forgets that it’s a whimsical, charming work of fiction. The rabbits have a nice house above ground with a rooftop garden… and then a ladder leading down to various burrows beneath the ground, including a cute and clever lavatory. It’s a sensible lavatory: you get a chance to look at rabbit poop. It’s a nonsensical lavatory: do rabbits normally sit on a toilet reading the newspaper? The birds each have their own rather fantastical nests, including the thieving magpie’s den with a “WANTED” poster on the tree. In short, each page has a nugget or two of natural sciences if you want that (Mr. Postmouse is thrilled he doesn’t have to go to Mr. Snake’s house, his natural predator), but happily plunges into the absurd, too (Mr. Postmouse stops for lunch with his friend Mr. Dragon). And yet the whole work has the same kind of natural logic that you find in Richard Scarry’s books: it makes sense in its own world, and is rich, full, and textured.
Mr. Postmouse has another special meaning to me: this is the first book the Changeling chose entirely for herself. She spotted it on the display, made a beeline for it, grabbed it down, begged me to read it to her, and instantly said, “This is the book I want to take home with me.” (Of course I said yes. I mean, I’m writing about it right now, aren’t I? And, oh all right, my heart melted within me. I’m only a book-loving mama, I’m not made of stone, y’know.) So, that’s the heart of the Changeling’s review here: it grabbed her immediately. From what she tells me about it, I’d say she loves the richness of detail in the illustrations as much as I do: “And there’s a bird! And the bird has a swing! It’s a yellow bird. And there’s apples! Is that a tree and an umbrella? The umbrella is beside the tree.”
Each page is full of things to explore, so let me warn you: this isn’t a quick book to read. This is a book for cuddles, and giggles, and a leisurely chat as you go from animal house to animal house. Let Mr. Postmouse show you around, and check out each bit of sense and nonsense as you go.
And Kids Can Press? Please keep doing what you’re doing, and maybe pass on a few tips to Nimbus and the others up there.