Friday, January 21, 2011

By Teresa Duran; Illustrations by Elena Val
ISBN No. 978-1-55498-098-7

By Maxine Trottier; Illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault
ISBN No. 978-0-88899-975-7

Both available at

The first lines of “Benedict” are very disturbing. They tell us that the little boy of the book’s title “lives in a very hot place. It is red, red, red.” And in case you didn’t get the point of all that red, Elena Val draws you a picture: battling snakes, pitchforks, and the gaping maws of hell itself. Your mouth will be gaping too when you consider that “Benedict” is about a kid living in H E double hockey sticks – but only until you realize that “Benny” is actually tired of seeing all that red. So with one springy coil of his tail (just picture the slingshot on the iPhone app “Angry Birds”) he vaults himself from a red place to a white one (the North Pole). Here everything is cold and snowy. Another “sproing!” and Benny is in the desert where everything is yellow. And so on and so on, until he’s visited earth’s whole colour scheme. “Benedict” is a cute book – and a conversation piece. I would have enjoyed it more had Teresa Duran set the whole story in various imaginary places (religious zealots, no e-mails please) and the book’s font more rousing than rudimentary.
“Migrant” is even more to the point. It’s the story of a Mennonite/Mexican child named Anna who travels north with her family each Spring to work on farms harvesting fruits and vegetables. Speaking patchy “Low German” or “Plautdietsch”, Anna doesn’t make new friends; she just tries to acclimatize herself to the new culture. At the supermarket she “listens to all the voices – to the woman with pink hair at the cash register, to the tattooed men who put cans on the shelves. But she only understands some of their words. Dollars. Peas. Meatballs.” With a child’s-eye view the book compares her life with that of a bird or rabbit migrating north each Spring and then south in the Fall. There’s Anna’s observation of her mother making “a home of yet another empty farmhouse, the rooms filled with the ghosts of last year’s workers.” Her sisters sleep in one bed, her brothers in another. In a year when immigration is a hot-button election topic, “Migrant” should be a hot-button book – and it is. It’s just so culturally sensitive and beautifully told that it’s hard to take exception with its closing message that migrants “be treated with the same respect that is extended to citizens and visitors alike.”