ST. JOHN’S, NL — The first books published specifically for children date back to the end of the 15th century, but these works were mainly intended for nobility or royalty and often drew heavily on teaching or sermons.
While in all cultures folk tales, ballads, riddles and rhymes were communicated orally, it was in the early 18th century that volumes of poems and songs for young readers began to appear (alongside some pedagogical theories on the importance of teaching through play).
A growing middle class, improvements in book production, and the marketing initiative of pioneers such as John Newbery (an innovator who also produced “The Liliputian Magazine”) combined to establish children’s literature as a genre .
Which is not to say that books in this category are uniform.
Broadly speaking, they include a sliding scale of visuals, with text indexed to certain ages – those read to, then those starting to read on their own, then those with increasing reading fluency , so called young adult fiction, arguably easily comparable with any contemporary fiction and with its own recognized classics.
The six interrelated stories in “The Tales of Dwipa” are “a retelling of Pandit Vishnu Sharma’s ‘Panchatantra'”, an ancient Indian collection of animal fables in Sanskrit verse.
When author Prajwala Dixit began telling the stories she had heard as a little girl to her own child, she found herself improvising, “putting them into a Canadian context”, transposing, for example, some dialogues, while retaining the fundamental messages of the traditional tales.
These feature a variety of creatures, which can speak and act often in human (or sometimes supernatural) ways, while their feats explore ideas like friendship and teamwork, and how different talents can combine to defeat a common enemy and win the day.
Many have become cross-cultural touchstones (“strength comes in many shapes and sizes.
Never take anyone for granted”) and in resonance with pillars such as Aesop’s fables.
The island of Dwipa is the setting, where Mima is the central character, often escorted by her faithful companions, the Newfoundland Neena and the Labrador retriever, Lok.
Other creatures include chipmunks, wolves, squirrels and killer whales – and some more fanciful:
“The Elders rarely talked about them, but when they did, it was with a mixture of fear and disgust. Demonic creatures with bloodshot eyes and large teeth, the Usuras had a human form. But with their three horns and four hands, they had the power to turn even Dwipa’s fiercest creature into mush.
The situations are fantastical yet instructive, and Duncan Major’s fluid, evocative work deftly captures this tone.
“Jesse and the Seven Wonders of St. John’s” is a sequel to “Jesse and the Seven Wonders of the World,” which reintroduces us to the main characters of Jesse and his one-eyed dog, Pilot.
“In ancient Greece, where the original wonders of the world were chosen, the number seven was believed to represent perfection,” says author Herbert F. Hopkins. In this case, the locations are in St. John’s – The Rooms, Signal Hill, Quidi Vidi Village.
According to the oldest customs, the story is told in verse.
When Jessie’s teacher, Mrs. House, announces a new assignment, one of her classmates isn’t too enthusiastic about it – Sabeen has immigrated to town and doesn’t know where or how to look for these “wonders”. .
Jessie volunteers to retrieve it on their magical journeys, and the story then unfolds night after night.
The text contrasts with the vivid images and bright colors of Corey Majeau.
There are groups of seven in the illustrations that readers can locate, results that they can then confirm at www.jesseandthesevenwonders.com; the song “Jesse’s Dream” can also be heard (and the sheet music is also included in the book).
When Daphne wakes up one summer morning, she knows it will be a special day. Not only is it her tenth birthday, but she gets a long-awaited and long-awaited gift: a beehive.
Her grandmother keeps bees and Daphne helps her, but now she will have her own beehive.
This is essentially the story arc in “Daphne’s Bees”, but the pages then provide a comprehensive guide to the craft and calling of beekeeping, including additional background notes and a glossary. And bees are quite interesting, with their social roles and structures, their ability to convey information through dance, and their work ethic – “busy as a bee” being a saying for good reason.
As usual, Veselina Tomova’s imagery is perfect and luminous.
Joan Sullivan is the editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.