________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 12 . . . . February 6, 2009

cover The Year I Was Grounded.

William New.
Vancouver, BC: Tradewind Books, 2008.
64 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-896580-35-7.

Subject Heading:
Children’s poetry, Canadian (English).

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Tara Williston.

**** /4

excerpt:

In granddad’s garden, carrots grow among the roses.

One tomato thrives beside the beans, a second shoots up in the corn.

He reckoned people need fewer rows to plant their dreams in, and more supposing.

Maybe so.

I know I love the way that jungle beckoned in granddad’s garden.

Once a planting time ago, I rambled footloose there – no fungus-worry hurt, no fleck of fear.

When it’s dark I trek there still, but lightly now, dreaming slow in granddad’s garden.

When Geordie gets grounded for lying about breaking a window, it’s “stay Close to Home. No treats. No Backtalk. No Computer Games” – which all leaves lots of time for writing in the new journal his grandparents had given him just a few days before. While Geordie is helping his father repair that broken window, his dad tells him, “When you’re you, you’re just right.” Later, in his journal, Geordie writes, “But who am I? It could take me a whole year to figure that one out. Maybe more.”

    And so begins the year Georgie was grounded, a year which the reader witnesses through the pages of Geordie’s journal, a hodgepodge of poems (both linear and concrete), diary entries, and word puzzles. The whole book is pulled together with fun design and typesetting tricks used to enhance the personal journal motif: the typeface used for the titles of many of Geordie’s poems and for the book’s four distinct sections mimics hand-lettering while some of Geordie’s other poetry is typeset to look as if it’s been plunked out on granddad’s old typewriter and then Scotch-taped inside the book. Also interesting to note is the lack of pagination throughout, just as a real diary would have no page numbers. All in all, the effect is delightful – at once playful and believable. This book’s unusual and engaging format is also a possible point of attraction for reluctant readers as is the text’s natural division into very short sections (the longest journal entry is only three pages; most are much shorter) with ample white space surrounding.

    While its brevity and visual appeal make The Year I Was Grounded a good choice for reluctant or struggling readers, the subject matter and language are by no means in the “light reading” category. This is capital L Literature, make no mistake! Throughout the book’s many snippets and styles, it is William New’s poetry, in particular, that consistently shines with the kind of sparkle that sends a happy tingle across readers’ tongues while they mouth the perfectly weighted words. New’s thoughtfully chosen language unravels events and enlightens the reader in the subtlest of ways. For example, when Geordie’s granddad dies, at first we are not certain that that is what has happened – Geordie writes only, “We said goodbye to granddad this week” – until, several pages later, a new section of the book opens with a poem beginning “My granddad used to say…” (in contrast to earlier poems which began “My grandad/grandma says”). In his journal, Geordie muses on the nature of dust, on how 18,000 mites can live in just one gram of dust, on how facts don’t always explain things, and goes for lonely walk on the beach, finding joy again with the return of the tide – and that is how he deals with the death of his beloved grandfather.

    Other serious topics which Geordie, with all the artlessness of a really good kid, tackles fancifully, include global warming and the destruction of the ozone layer, self-awareness and identity, and exploring the unconditional love of family. And yet the book as a whole is a pure pleasure to read, something of a frolic despite its grave themes. At the close of the year that began with getting grounded, Geordie has learned a lot, and after spending four seasons with him, we are ready to take his words to heart:

And if the night threatens you
or separation chills, you can remember
you are stronger than the dark.

Hold on to the rain.

Highly Recommended.

Tara Williston is a Children’s Librarian in Vancouver, BC.

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

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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