________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 13 . . . .March 3, 2006


Did You Say Pears?

Arlene Alda.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2006.
32 pp., cloth, $22.99.
ISBN 0-88776-739-7.

Subject Headings:
English language-Homonyms-Juvenile literature.
Homonyms-Juvenile literature.

Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 3-6.

Review by Danya David.

*** /4



If horns
played cool music
And pants
were just clothes…


The land of homonyms and homophones is peculiar and perplexing. Finding one’s way around this linguistic playland can prove to be truly puzzling. Nevertheless, venturing into territory where words sound the same, may be spelled the same, but mean completely different things, is also loads of fun. With her newest photographic picture book, Did You Say Pears?, Alda celebrates this zest for language, bringing to life its quirks and intricacies and inviting young children and parents alike to play.

internal art     A concept-book which seeks simultaneously to mystify and demystify homonyms and homophones, Did You Say Pears? succeeds in exciting children’s curiosity for words while illustrating a linguistic phenomenon in a non-didactic manner. Alda attempts to connect words to images so that the interplay between (seemingly) simple text and crisp photos urges the reader to investigate and independently draw conclusions. The book uses an effective structure of juxtaposing photos on corresponding pages, guiding the reader with text which expounds each homonym or homophone pair. “If horns…played cool music”, for example, shows a picture of a ram on one page and a brass band on the other. Through specific examples, the reader understands that words which appear to be identical can, in fact, be completely different.

internal art     Did You Say Pears? does fall short of perfection, however. Ideally, picture book illustrations should extend what the text has to say, rather than merely repeat. While the text is concise and makes effective use of rhythm and rhyme, the images, while unambiguous, are less impressive. Although Alda is known for her award-winning photography, these photos are regrettably non-memorable. In attempt to be non-ambiguous, the photos are rather static and uncreative. Many are so posed that they are simply dry. More intriguing both to the child and the adult eye would be real live action photos, or even photos which appear to be less contrived, ones which enhance the dynamism of the forceful text and the concepts or themes expounded. The photos would certainly be more enticing were they more creative in their treatment of subject matter.

      Moreover, the front cover picture of highly stylized pears set against a dark background brings to mind classical European still-life painting- strangely and inappropriately somber in tone. The image also does not typify the graphic style nor tone expressed throughout the book.

     Despite these visual shortcomings, this is a clever book, one which will likely facilitate enjoyable language experiences for young children. Similarly, its informative back-page annotation will satisfy parents’ aggravation at trying to recall and distinguish between these odd word pairings.

     Generally, Did You Say Pears? exhibits some essential criteria of quality picture book: tight, impactful, reads aloud well. Moreover, fruitfully embedded within its necessarily rigid structure are grander themes, like respect for nature and harmony amongst humankind.


Danya David is a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature program at the University of British Columbia.

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

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