CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 22. . . .June 26, 2009
Frank B. Edwards.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2009.
71 pp., $9.95.
Munsch, Robert N., 1945- -Juvenile literature.
Authors, Canadian-20th century-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Grades 3 and up / Ages 8 and up.
Review by Ellen Heaney.
Frank B. Edwards is known for humourous picture books and easy readers, such as Mortimer Mooner Stopped Taking a Bath and Crowded Ride in the Countryside. Here, his work takes a new turn as he writes the biography of a man who is undoubtedly the most well-known Canadian children's author ever. (What appears to be a series title, "Larger than Life," appears on the cover and the title page, but there are no other entries in the series in the current Fitzhenry and Whiteside catalogue.)
The book takes readers step-by-step from Munsch's infancy through childhood and a difficult adolescence.
It was his love of books that brought him into contact with Sister Emma Jean Middendorf, a young nun who was the school librarian… Although Robert had a reputation as a poor student, Sister Emma Jean quickly learned about his voracious appetite for books. She decided that he was actually a very intelligent boy who simply didn't do well at the subjects his teachers were interested in.
Munsch's lack of ability to achieve acceptable results academically led to depression that dogged him through his school years. After high school, Munsch entered a Jesuit novitiate, and, after four years, he went into the Jesuit seminary at Fordham University where he thrived studying history and philosophy.
The community service expected of a seminarian led him into working with children whom he entertained with games and storytelling. A tragic beating by street thugs in 1971 caused Munsch memory loss so sever that he had to give up university studies. This situation brought him to working full-time in daycare and eventually to the Family Studies "laboratory preschool" at the University of Guelph.
Robert's favourite daycare activity was storytime, when he could sit down with the kids and tell them stories as he had been doing before in Coos Bay and Boston. But this time there were adults watching quietly behind the mirror, trying not to laugh as Robert made funny faces and hilarious noises. One of those adults was Robert's boss, Dr. Bruce Ryan, whose wife, Nancy, was a children's librarian. They were both impressed by his wild stories and their popularity with the children.
Munsch's wife Ann worked at the preschool too, and it was at her suggestion that it be a princess, not a prince, who bested the dragon in one of the stories he was telling. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Edwards' biography includes family photos, group pictures, and some of the book covers and goofy portraits of Robert Munsch as a performer. It is everything we want to know about Robert Munsch told with care and sympathy. Because the book is much too detailed for the preschool and primary children who love David's Father and Murmel Murmel Murmel, it will more likely find a place among older children who want to know about Robert Munsch and with adults who are fans.
Ellen Heaney is Head, Children's Services at the New Westminster Public Library, New Westminster, BC.
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