When Emily Carr Met Woo (Monica Kulling, author; Dean Griffiths, illustrator. Pajama Press, 2014)
This picture book shares a snapshot of the life of a storied Canadian artist and writer, and also tells of friendship and following the path that makes your soul sing. Emily Carr wasn’t only passionate about painting, she also loved animals. She brought a caged, lonely monkey home from the pet store who she named ‘Woo’, a name inspired by the monkey’s shrieks as it rode Emily’s shoulders home along Victoria’s oceanfront. The artist and monkey shared something very special–a deep sense of wonder and peace when they journeyed into British Columbia’s sublime wildernesses. This picture book recounts a time that Woo acted (not surprisingly) like a monkey, which almost resulted in tragedy. Woo’s story will draw animal lovers to this book again and again. Emily Carr’s story will lead you to seek out her art and stories. The National Gallery is only a short bus ride away . . . lucky me!
Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate DiCamillo, Candlewick Press, 2000)
“You haven’t read Because of Winn-Dixie?” my school teacher friend asked me [she reads it to her class]. “Sydona [my 8 year-old daughter] would love it,” she continued.
“I’ve heard of it. I should try reading it to the girls, but Madilyn [just turned 4] might be a little young,” I replied.
Well, Because of Winn-Dixie was a hit with all three of us. A book featuring a neglected yet grinning dog named after a grocery store quickly hooks most readers. To this, add a colourful cast of characters, humour and raw emotion. I got teary a few times reading it, although the ‘Beth Cry Test’ is fairly predictable. There were some meaty topics in this book for my girls to digest: a runaway mother, a distracted father, loneliness and alcoholism were the biggies. But, as I’ve heard many times–kids can handle big topics. And they did. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of depth was lost on them, but that’s okay, because many age appropriate questions were shooting from their mouths and my eldest was showing concern and compassion for Opal, the main character (qualities I would often like to see more often!). The theme of friendship permeates throughout novel. Opal develops a number of unlikely friendships thanks to the four-legged companion that she brought home from the Winn-Dixie instead of a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice and two tomatoes. And I’ve been upset when a surprise bag of candy makes it way home from a shopping trip . . .
Because of Winn-Dixie is a heartwarming book with short chapters, which made it a perfect first novel to read aloud to my young children. It’s received some impressive accolades; a Parent’s Choice gold award in 2000 and a Newberry honour in 2001.