________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 7 . . . . November 21, 2008

cover Canadian Cartooning: How to Draw Your Favourite National Characters and Landmarks.

Erin O'Connor. Illustrated by Dominique Pelletier.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2007.
40 pp., pbk., $6.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99663-1.

Grades 1-5 / Ages 6-10.

Review by Elizabeth Walker.

* /4


Canada is a country rich in natural beauty... and humour! This book will help you unlock the silly side of drawing our wildlife, natural wonders and icons that people around the world associate with Canada. Inside are super simple steps on how to draw kooky creatures, priceless people, loony landscapes and more.


The premise behind this book sounds appealing, but it very quickly disappoints. The first thing that put me off are Pelletier's cartoons — all of which are cutesy bordering on obnoxious. The cross-eyed, slightly manic looking beaver who is our "guide" to drawing each "kooky creature and more" becomes more and more insipid on each successive page, and by the end of this very thin volume, I was harbouring rather sick fantasies of felt hats (which, by the way, do not appear in this book as cartoons). This might merely be a matter of adult taste, but when the cartoon offerings are as cliché-ridden and insufferable as a lumberjack, a Canada Goose, a maple leaf and an Inuksuk, all with bug eyes and buck teeth, it is difficult to be equitable.

internal art

     Aesthetics aside, any how-to book should be judged on its ability to inspire and instruct the reader, annoying beaver mascot or not, and this is where Canadian Cartooning really fails. Despite its claims of offering "super simple steps," the instructions and diagrams are laughably complicated. O'Connor and Pelletier begin by showing the reader basic shapes and introduce small 4-by-4 grids in which children should copy small sections of each sample cartoon into each corresponding grid square and — voila — the picture appears as a perfect copy of the original.

     This is a completely reasonable instructional strategy, but it has a major flaw. The grid technique is well-known to art teachers the world over, and well-loathed by their students. There are several reasons. The main one is that very few individuals can copy that accurately, so the finished product almost always looks like a poor shadow of the original. And very few kids (or adults) have the time (or the patience) to painstakingly copy minute lines and shadings into squares. The final problem is that this technique really only ever encourages copying — true creativity and spontaneity have no place in grids.

internal art

     Frustratingly, O'Connor and Pelletier also totally overlook the concept behind using grids — that the child starts with very simple lines and shapes that can be broken down into manageable chunks. In many examples, Pelletier's diagrams start with the grids already 75% filled in with very detailed lines and shadings. The progression, therefore, only shows minor details being added, which is less than helpful. For example, the first step in drawing hockey players involves drawing their heads — complete with helmets, pointy noses and fiddly teeth and expressions. There's no reference back to using simple shapes, despite the introductory pages. It will be an exercise in frustration for all but the most patient and detail-oriented child.

     This is nothing more than a cheaply produced, cliché-ridden and confusing how-to guide that will do very little to inspire any sort of creativity in children. The sort of child who is content to copy and who has the patience to mindlessly fill in grids will likely enjoy it. For all other children, it will happily double as a colouring book.

Not Recommended.

Elizabeth Walker is a student in UBC's Master of Arts in Children's Literature Program.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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