________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 21 . . . .June 24, 2005


Bigbeard's Hook. (Nathaniel McDaniel and the Magic Attic).

Evan Solomon. Illustrated by Bill Slavin.
Toronto, ON: Viking Canada, 2005.
40 pp., cloth, $16.00.
ISBN 0-670-06386-X.

Grades 1-5 / Ages 6-10.

Review by Barb Taylor.




Nathaniel McDaniel loves to explore.
He peeks into dressers and opens closed doors.
His big eyes are green, his shoes need repair.
And he never combs his straw-coloured hair.

Bigbeard's Hook is the first book in a series of adventure books written by Evan Solomon who is familiar to many as the co-host of CBC News and the former editor-in-chief of Shift Magazine. I always hold my breath when celebrities venture into children's literature, but Solomon does justice to the imaginary world of the child.

     The hero of the book, Nathaniel McDaniel, goes to visit his Gramps who lives in a rambling house full of interesting knickknacks. In the course of exploring Gramp's house, Nathaniel finds a locked door and can't resist entering the forbidden room. He notices a pirate's hook sitting on a chest and picks it up. Suddenly, he is catapulted onto a pirate ship inhabited by nasty, smelly, rum-swilling pirates. Finally, a child's book that doesn't attempt to sugar-coat the bad guys.

"He yanks Nate up close,
his breath fishy and rank.
"How's it gonna feel, boy,
to be walkin' the plank?"

internal art     These pirates have no redeeming features, and Nathaniel McDaniel must deal with their evil pirate ways. How does Nathaniel handle this gang of nasty pirates? He runs and hides. Unfortunately, during his escape, he runs into the anti-hero of the story, "Bigbeard." Nathaniel must rely on his wits to survive this "terror of Bristol" in the true tradition of fairy tales and hero myths.

     If I have one minor complaint, it is that Solomon occasionally compromises the fluency and power of this story with forced rhyming and irregular rhythms.

Tiptoeing slowly, Nate chews his thumbnail
(he always feels tingly on the explorer's trail).
Reaching out his hand,
He grabs hold of the rarity
there's a cosmic irregularity.

     Nonetheless, this is a greatly entertaining story, and I think the publisher's 6-10-year-old recommendation accurately targets what should be a receptive audience.

     The large, colourful illustrations by Bill Slavin are stories in themselves. He piques the reader's curiosity with his portrayals of Gramps house and its mysterious attic. Readers will want to pause and take in the curiosities in the attic, including an Egyptian mummy, ventriloquist's dummy and pirate items galore. The illustrations are also wonderful for having young readers make predictions about what is to come in the story. Those fans of previous books Bill Slavin has illustrated, including The Cat Came Back, won't be disappointed in this new offering.

Highly Recommended.

Barb Taylor teaches Pre-Kindergarten in Calgary, AB, and is a freelance travel-writer.

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

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