________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 8 . . . . December 5, 2008

cover Robert Munsch. (My Favorite Writer).

Heather Kissock.
Calgary, AB: Weigl, (Distributed by Saunders Book Company), 2009.
32 pp., pbk. & hc., $11.95 (pbk.), $23.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-59036-925-8 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-59-36-924-1 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Munsch, Robert N., 1945–Juvenile literature.
Authors, Canadian-20th century-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

** /4


To write children’s books well, it is good to be a big kid yourself. Robert Munsch proves this every time he writes a book. This author is a kid at heart. As a result, he is one of the world’s most successful children’s authors.

Robert brings enthusiasm to everything he writes. His stories put children in weird and wacky situations. Angela flies an airplane in Angela’s Airplane. Megan lets the pigs out of their pen in Pigs. Life is an adventure for the characters in his books and the people who read them.

Likely there are very few Canadian early years students who have not encountered at least one Robert Munsch picture book, and consequently Munsch is a most appropriate addition to a series of books about “My Favourite Author,” a series that focuses principally on American authors. Though the publisher’s website says that these books are written at a grade five reading level and that their intended audience is grade 5 and up, given the brevity of Robert Munsch, plus the principal audience of Munsch’s own books, I would think this compact biography would find a more ready reading or listening audience among much younger readers. Though no list of “sources” is provided, it would appear that Robert Munsch was created from secondary sources rather than Kissock’s personal interaction with her book’s subject.

     The slim volume's 32 pages are divided into 11 “chapters,” most consisting of a pair of facing pages. “Milestones” consists of a full page colour photo of Munsch along with a table of “Milestones” that begins with his birth in 1945 and concludes in 1994 with the milestone that Love You Forever was listed in the New York Times “as the best-selling children’s book of all time.” Why the timeline stops 14 years ago is never explained, and even though the text later notes that Munsch was invested in the Order Of Canada in 1999, that event is not considered significant enough to be considered a “milestone.”

     The two pages devoted to “Early Childhood” provide a bit of information about Munch’s birth family and his elementary school years. More than half of these two pages is unnecessarily consumed by a map of Pennsylvania, Munsch’s state of birth, and a photo of a group of what appear to be high school students in a school library.

     Departing from the two page chapter format are the four pages of “Growing Up” which deal briefly with Munsch’s high school and university years plus his early working years. Readers are told that “When Robert finished high school, he became a Jesuit priest.” A couple of paragraphs later, readers are informed that, at age 25, “He decided to leave the Jesuits for a year.” In the next paragraph, author Kissock notes that Munsch met his future wife, Ann, while working in a daycare. At no point, does Kissock make clear that Munsch left the priesthood. Again, illustrations consume much of each page. For instance, there is a painting of an unidentified priest (possibly Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the order’s founder?) and a photo of four young students with the photo being captioned, “More than 30 percent of children under age five whose mothers work, attend daycare, preschool, or nursery school.” Exactly how that photo and caption are to increase the reader’s knowledge of Munsch is unclear. Another photo of a covered bridge says that “Guelph is home of only two covered bridges in Ontario. The lattice-covered bridge over Speed River was built in 1992.” Child readers might understandably wonder why this photo was included since the book’s main text never mentions Guelph. The closest Kissock comes is saying that “In 1975, he [Munsch] and Ann moved to the province of Ontario in Canada, so that Robert could take a job at a university.”

     “Learning the Craft” reverts to the two page format and explains how Munsch began by telling stories over and over while refining them in response to his young audiences’ reactions. “Getting Published” moves Munsch’s life story along by succinctly explaining how his first book, Mud Puddle came to be published. A useful addition to this chapter is the flow chart of “The Publishing Process” although the accompanying text says, in part, “Once the book is published, some authors receive royalties,” a statement which will leave some young readers asking, “And what about the other authors? Do they not get paid?”

     “Writer Today” explains what Munsch is doing presently and makes clear that he is still writing. Four pages are then given over to eight of Munsch’s “Popular Books,” with each being briefly described, but only five of them are accompanied by the book’s cover illustration.

     The two pages of “Creative Writing Tips” are not supplied by Munsch, himself, but instead Kissock explains the roles that audience, voice and revisions play in Munsch’s writing.

     Assuming that this book may be being read to fulfill a school assignment, another two pages are devoted to “Writing a Biography Review” with one page given to a concept web.

     “Fan Information” provides two web links, one to Munsch’s official site and the other to that of his publisher, Scholastic.

     Given the book’s hardcover price, using two full pages for a 10 item quiz on the previous 27 pages is simply unacceptable. A page is also devoted to 19 “Writing Terms” that are to “introduce you to some of the main terms in the field of writing. Understanding these common writing terms will allow you to discuss your ideas about books and writing with others.” Though most of these 19 definitions are clear, that for “action: the moving events of a work of fiction” may require further clarification by an adult. Likewise, in the 17 item one-page “Glossary” of words taken from the book’s text, the definition of “Master’s degree: recognition for completing a program of advanced learning at a university” is far from a clear explanation of what such a degree is.

     The 17 entries in the closing page “Index” are more form than substance. Really, how useful is it to know that Ann Munsch’s name appears on pages 9, 10, 11, 15, 16 & 18? While the publisher could make the argument that including an index contributes to a child’s information retrieving skills, I would counter argue that a student’s encountering a “poor” index will likely have the opposite effect.

     The book also contains four coloured “Inspired to Write” text boxes. While the boxes provide a bit of visual variety, their contents could have easily been absorbed into one of the chapters. Libraries with limited funds might want to purchase the paperback version of Robert Munsch or satisfy their young patrons requests for information about Munsch by referring them to the biographical section of his official website.

Recommended with reservations.

Dave Jenkinson, who lives in Winnipeg, MB, is CM’s editor. Many years ago, Dave interviewed Robert Munsch for a biographical piece in an American language arts journal.

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

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