CM April 12, 1996. Vol II, Number 26

Table of Contents

From the Editor

 New CM Search Tool

Book Reviews

CDNConstruct-A-Kit Fort and Playhouse.
Philip Poissant and Dede Sinclair. Illustrated by Darrel Bowman.
Review by Sylvia Smith and Evan Thornton.
Grades Preschool - 6 / Ages 4 - 11.

CDNThe Dark Garden.
Margaret Buffie.
Review by Diane Fitzgerald.
Grades 7 - 10 / Ages 12 - 15.

CDNCanadian Internet Handbook.
J.A Carroll and Rick Broadhead.
Review by Bob Haxton.
Grades 7 and Up / Ages 12 to Adult.

CDNPaul Kane's Great Nor-West.
Diane Eaton and Sheila Urbanek.
Review by T.S. Casaubon.
Grades 10 - 13 / Ages 14 - Adult.

CDNHong Kong Rising:
The History of a Remarkable Place.
Peter Pigott.
Review by Irene Gordon.
Grades 10 and Up / Ages 16 to Adult.

CDNIrving Layton: God's Recording Angel.
Francis Mansbridge.
Review by Ian Stewart.
Grades 11 - 13 / Ages 16 to Adult.


 Notable Web Sites

From the Editor

Since we've begun the electronic CM, we kept an up-to-date index of all the materials we've reviewed, by both author and title. Right there, that's great. But what about those little Web-site write-ups we do? How do you find the one you want? Or what if you don't remember the author or the title, but know there was a really important book on cooking with peanut butter? Ah, now the electronic age comes into its own.

For we have added a search engine to the CM site. Now (if you're reading on the Web -- and if you're not, you should) you can use our new Excite search tool and type in, say, peanut butter, and cooking, and, hey, presto! you can go right to The Peanut Butter Cookbook. Well, that one you might have been able to figure out yourself, but of course you can find much more esoteric titles (or articles, or editorials) the same way.

It's easy, and there's on-line help. Give it a try, (you can just click on the search icon beneath this editorial). See if you don't think this alone justifies the whole enlightenment project.

By the way, if you're going to be in Winnipeg this weekend, come and see us at the Computer Expo at the Convention Centre. We're there showing off the magazine, and we'd love to talk to you.

As always, please send any comments to address beneath my name.

-- Duncan Thornton

Search CM

Book Review

Construct-A-Kit Fort and Playhouse.

Philip Poissant and Dede Sinclair. Illustrated by Darrel Bowman.
Toronto: Somerville House Publishing, 1995. 56pp, paper and kit, $29.95.
ISBN: 1-895897-15-7.

Grades Preschool - 6 / Ages 4 - 11.
Review by Sylvia Smith and Evan Thornton.

If your front porch is like ours this time of year, somewhere behind the piles of different boots for rainy mild days, cold fair days, coldish but slushy days and those trick-you-into-thinking-spring-is-early this year dry warm days, you've got a stack of newspapers in a box you've been meaning to recycle all winter, but were always too rushed in the mornings to bag them properly and put them in your blue box along with the cans and bottles. In our case, we keep waiting until we remember to ask for paper bags, not plastic, at the grocery checkout. Somehow putting the old papers out in plastic bags defeats the whole idea of recycling, though we're never sure why.

Into this breech of never-acted upon good intentions is exactly where this excellent play structure steps. Here's the theory:
  1. Kids like to build forts. They'll make 'em out of anything they can, including a tablecloth draped over a couple of oily work stools they found in the garage.
  2. Savvy parents like kids to have forts, since everything, especially quietly reading books, is just more fun in a fort.
  3. Most parents who aren't too anally retentive have a pile of old newspapers around they feel a little guilty about.
  4. Parents don't spend enough time building nifty forts with their kids, another thing they might feel guilty about.
  5. With due care and attention, most parents can roll newspapers into a neat tube shape. If they could sturdily "cap" those tubes, they'd have "struts" -- and the beginning of a nifty fort.

Combine the irrefutable logic behind this theory with some plastic connector caps and elbows, and a very clear (and well-illustrated) set of instructions, and the concept for this kit is complete -- an indoor play structure constructed with old newspapers!

Kids under ten can help by sorting, counting, stacking, and folding the sheets of newsprint. One four-year-old we saw even installed the plastic connector caps.

The first time we used the kit, a simple "cube" house was ready in a little more than an hour. And it was a fun "activity" hour, too. After a week's wear and tear on the cube house (including using it as a steam tent for clearing up a clogged chest) we salvaged all of our struts the next weekend and made a castle with the addition a few sheets of water-painted bristol board. It even had a drawbridge.

The Construct-A-Kit Fort includes instructions for making a spaceship, a tent, and a playhouse. One note -- you'll need plenty of masking tape. And figure on using a least two thick Saturday newspapers of the same format -- no mixing tabloids with broadsheets.*

Now if only someone could do something visually attractive with fourteen pairs of boots. . . .


Sylvia Smith is a parent and teacher; Evan Thornton is a parent and newsprint-hoarder. They live in Ottawa.

*But then, nobody who reads tabloids recycles anyway, right?

Book Review

The Dark Garden.

Margaret Buffie.
Toronto: Kids Can Press Ltd., 1995. 237pp, cloth, $16.95.
ISBN: 1-55074-288-4.

Grades 7 - 10 / Ages 12 - 15.
Review by Diane Fitzgerald.



When one of the shadows asks me my name nothing comes -- just a crackling emptiness. The shadows change into people in pastel clothing who come and go and talk to me and are surprised when I answer them. But not as surprised as I am when the words that slide into my head turn out to be the right ones. They begin their tests. I show them that I can tell a lamp from a tree and a cup from a glass, but over the next few days and nights the white mist that is my memory never changes. At night they leave me alone, and I sink into the garden's green darkness with sweet relief.
In the daylight they come back and ask again and again -- do I remember Thea? Her parents? They tell me that Thea is her . . . my name -- Thea Austen Chalmers-Goodall. With a hyphen. I don't know her. I am certain I could never have been Thea Austen Chalmers-Goodall. With or without a hyphen.
I am no one.

Margaret Buffie is the author of the acclaimed YA ghost story Who is Frances Rain? In The Dark Garden, Buffie makes good use of an epigraph from the Lady of Shalott; various characters are imbowered in prisons real, psychological, and supernatural. More importantly, Buffie handles the dialogue and characters with a rare and welcome skill and assurance.

Thea, Buffie's sixteen-year-old protagonist, is in a grim situation -- she is an amnesiac who wakes to find herself in an unpleasant, barely functioning family, and half-possessed by the ghost of a long-dead girl. But near the surface there is a charm, which, combined with the well-drawn young characters, remind one of Doddie Smith's classic I Capture the Castle.

Thea has many tasks to juggle on her journey through her own dark garden. She must remember who she is -- although that seems less and less attractive the more she finds about her family. Her parents are progressively minded workaholics capable of saying things like, "We'll dialogue later tonight, okay?" The parents, Thea learns, see the family as a cooperative "unit" where everyone has their own areas of responsibly. (Thea's appears to have been doing all the work and child-rearing.)

One of her sisters resents her amnesia; the other, Wee (named after her urinary habits, not her size), has emotional problems that keep her acting the baby. Even Thea herself appears to have been a tiresomely dramatic adolescent before the accident that brought on the amnesia.

And then there is the ghost of Susannah, who disappeared mysteriously decades ago in the house where Thea's family now lives. Thea's experiences blend with Susannah's memories to make her grip on reality even more tenuous.

In order for Susannah (and Thea) to find peace, they must solve the mystery of Susannah's disappearance. This part of Thea's struggle is both traumatic and thrilling, partly because it involves Lucas, an intriguing and attractive young man who is trying to find his own peace despite the psychic gifts that allow him to hear the voices of the dead and the living.

In the end Thea finds a way out of the dark garden -- the prisons of the family, the psyche, and the supernatural -- for both herself and Lucas.

There might be one element too many in this supernatural-coming-of-age-mystery-romance, but Buffie balances them all implausibly well. There are real chills here, and real characters and problems that young readers, especially girls, will be able to relate to.

Highly recommended.

Diane Fitzgerald is an elementary-school teacher in Saskatoon.

Book Review

Canadian Internet Handbook.

J.A. Carroll and Rick Broadhead.
Scarborough, ON, Prentice Hall, 1996. 872pp, paper, $24.95.
ISBN 0-13-505017-0.

Grades 7 and Up / Ages 12 to Adult.
(any school or library with an Internet connection).
Review by Bob Haxton

The phenomenal growth of the Internet in 1995, facilitated by Netscape and the World Wide Web, has brought some significant changes in the third edition of this popular handbook. The attractiveness of the Web, the ease of use of the Netscape browser, and an awakening to the Internet's potential has increased the number of services greatly.

There were 41 Internet service providers in Canada in 1994 and 163 by 1995. Whole libraries of formerly hard-to-get information have become available as government institutions have got on-board. A foreword by Prime Minister Jean Chretien reflects this new interest, as does his government's commitment to having all schools and libraries in Canada connected to the Internet by 1998. No doubt this handbook will be sitting alongside all those modems.

The coverage appears exhaustive. The eighteen chapters, conveniently, summarized in the preface, cover the obvious questions such as: what is it? what can I do on it? and, how does it work? as well as information on aspects such as knowledge networking and Usenet, and, of course, a directory of services in Canada. Also included are chapters on Microsoft and the Internet, a history of the Internet in Canada, the results of a national Angus Reid poll on Internet use, and a very interesting chapter on the potential of the Internet.

Besides a good table of contents, the summaries mentioned above, an index, a glossary, and some useful appendices, there are two small but interesting features in the layout: each chapter begins with a useful summary in point form, organized in a conspicuous side box, and thought-provoking quotations are arranged in the margins throughout.

The authors are both professionals working in this field and have written and lectured extensively about their subject. They have also written a companion volume, The Canadian Internet Directory, which has about eighteen hundred Internet resources in Canada (as compared to the three hundred in the Handbook), and another on business opportunities, The Canadian Internet Advantage: Opportunities for Business and Other Organizations. The Canadian Internet Handbook gives you not only an evaluation and analysis of the Internet, but also an understanding of the Internet as a community, particularly in the anecdotal case studies given in chapter three, "The Internet in Canada." In reading these, you hear an echo of that co-operative, pioneering spirit that has characterised this country. I would recommend this title to anyone with an Internet connection.


Bob Haxton is a teacher/librarian in Vancouver.

Book Review

Paul Kane's Great Nor-West.

Diane Eaton and Sheila Urbanek.
Vancouver: UBC Press, 1995. 176pp, cloth, $39.95.
ISBN: 0-7748-0538-2.

Grades 10 - 13 / Ages 14 - Adult.
Review by T.S. Casaubon.



On his return to Fort Vancouver two months later, Kane stopped at Cowlitz and went straight to the lodge of his old friend Kiscox. To his surprise, he found the chief and family that had once welcomed him so hospitably cool and peculiarly distant, the children even running away as he approached. After some time, Kiscox asked him if he had made a portrait of a woman on his last visit. `I said that I had,' Kane writes, `and mentioned her name, Caw-wacham . . . A dead silence ensued, nor could I get the slightest answer to my enquiries.' On leaving the lodge Kane met a mixed-blood Indian who told him that Caw-wacham had taken sick and died and that he, Kane, was believed to have caused her death. Fearing reprisal, Kane `immediately procured a canoe, and started for Fort Vancouver, down the river, paddling all night, well knowing the danger that would result from [his] meeting with any of her relations.'

Paul Kane (1810-1871) was a Toronto-born, and largely self-taught, artist who resolved early to make a lasting record of North American Indians and their traditional way of life. The central event of his career was a journey of two-and-half years through the wilderness, from the Great Lakes, through the Red River settlement (where he saw and painted one of the last great buffalo hunts), the Rockies, and into the Pacific Northwest.

But to gain the cooperation of the Hudson's Bay Company, which essentially governed what is now Canada west of the Great Lakes, he had to first establish himself as a fit traveller. That meant Kane had to show Hudson's Bay governor George Simpson that he could keep up with the company voyageurs on the first legs of the fur route into the northwest. Kane did better than pass the test -- he not only gained the protection of the company, but by the end of his adventures was leading one of its daunting winter expeditions.

All along Kane's great trip he made sketches and watercolours whenever he could: landscapes, pictures of forts and towns, and most importantly, portraits of the natives he met -- portraits that gained him a reputation as a medicine man. Most of his later career was to consist of working up striking paintings based on those field sketches and on the native artifacts he gathered on the trip. In this later work Kane was unable to resist bending the images he had captured on his travels to fit the classical tastes of the time, but his field work had unusual freshness and accuracy.

Kane also kept a journal of his travels, and later wrote them up (with some help and embellishment) as Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America . . . , a classic of Canadian travel writing (and a best-seller in its time). In both the sketches and journal, Kane fulfilled his goal of making an important historical and anthropological record of ways of life that were already starting to disappear.

Diane Eaton is a Vancouver freelance writer and the author of Canada: A Nation Unfolding (1994); Sheila Urbanek is an art historian "with a long-standing interest in the art and culture of the pacific Northwest." Together, in Paul Kane's Nor-West, they have brought Kane's great trip to life for the modern reader, providing a meticulous and clearly written account that relies heavily on Kane's own words (or those of his ghost-writers) but also gives the background and context of the journey and of almost everyone Kane encountered. Only occasionally is a term that might confuse a reader without a good grounding in history -- like `manifest destiny' -- left unexplained.

There is a slight whiff of political correctness in Eaton and Urbanek's introduction, in which the authors apologize for sins in their subject that only a late-twentieth century academic would be likely to detect, but this is the obligatory defensive incantation of our time -- as forgivable as Kane's later `classical' interpretations of the subjects of his trip.

So Paul Kane's Nor-West is a fascinating and important work of travel and adventure that will be especially well suited to senior students in art, anthropology, or history. Only the stiff price might deter a purchase, but the book is not a budget production and is well worth it. The large format allows for an excellent and clear design, many excerpts from Kane's book and diary in the margins, and plenty of full-page, often full-colour reproductions of Kane's paintings. Importantly, Kane's field work is also heavily represented.

In their introduction, Eaton and Urbanek write:

Unfortunately, Kane's works, like the nineteenth-century world he strove to preserve in pictures and words, have faded from public attention. . . . his art and prose deserve more attention from a wider audience.
This book is essentially a rescue mission.

Mission accomplished.

Highly recommended.

T.S. Causabon is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer.

Book Review

Hong Kong Rising:
The History of a Remarkable Place

Peter Pigott.
Burnstown, ON: General Store Publishing House, 1995. 206pp, paper, $18.95.

ISBN : 1-896182-23-2.

Grades 10 and Up / Ages 16 to Adult.
Review by Irene Gordon.



This book, as its title implies, sets out to give an account of Hong Kong in its rise from an obscure fishing village to an Asian financial centre. . . . Hong Kong owes its existence (and prosperity) to the British need for a secure trading post on the south China coast. It was never intended to be a strategic naval base or a settlement to which British families migrated. For the Chinese, it has always been a port from which to migrate. Both nations saw Hong Kong as a temporary home where fortunes could be made, or passages secured overseas. Yet implausibly, a sense of community has developed and this book explains how this came about.

With the imminent change in its government, Hong Kong is certainly relevant today, so a history of Hong Kong would seem an important addition to any senior high school library. Peter Pigott, author of Hong Kong Rising, seems to have done extensive research, and he has spent time in Hong Kong with the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. There might, however, be controversy over some of his pronouncements like:

This program of privatization is the secret of Hong Kong's phenomenal growth.
Since the Second World War, it chose to go against the trend of massive government ownership practised in other countries. . . . The government was heavily involved in the industrial sectors of [other] Asian nations . . . Airlines were nationalized in France, power companies in Canada . . . Only recently has the trend reversed itself, and all these countries have begun to privatize their over-controlled, unprofitable industries, bureaucracies, transportation and communications sectors.

The glossary is quite useful, though it omits an exotic word like "gweilo" while including "junk" and "rickshaw" which readers more than likely will already be familiar with. The photos are excellent. But the book does suffer from several weaknesses. Maps could be more extensive and easier to read, the book lacks an index, and the layout is poor with skimpy and often uneven page margins. While the story of Hong Kong is a fascinating one, the book drags in places. For example, the text mentions each governor at least briefly. Perhaps it would have been better to have listed the governors in an appendix along with relevant biographical data and the main events of their term of office, and to have only written about the more influential governors in the main body of the book.

Recommended with reservations

Irene Gordon is a teacher-librarian who has spent the past thirteen years working in a junior high school in Winnipeg.

Book Review

Irving Layton: God's Recording Angel.

Francis Mansbridge.
"Canadian Biography Series."
Toronto: ECW Press, 1995. 160pp, paper, $14.95.
ISBN: 1-55022-216-3.

Grades 11 - 13 / Ages 16 to Adult.
Review by Ian Stewart.



Through the imaginative breadth of his poetry and the dynamism of his personality, Layton redefined the possibilities for the Canadian writer. His passionately vivid descriptions revealed new ways of experiencing the world and new aspects of the world to savour....
Layton vehemently castigated Canadian gentility, which meant, for him, a distrust of any art or other forms of expression or activity that threatened the restricted confines of the puritanical, middle-class mind. At best, gentility could be civilized and intelligent, but those in its grasp skimmed the surface of life rather than venturing into the psyche's dark depth...

Francis Mansbridge, Irving Layton's biographer, and the editor of his letters, does not attempt a complete literary analysis of Layton's poetry in Irving Layton: God's Recording Angel -- there are surprisingly few of his poems included in this book. She also does not deal extensively with the question of Layton's place in the Canadian literary hierarchy, or with whether he deserves a lasting place in Canadian literary history. She leaves those matters for posterity.

What Mansbridge has done is write a book that challenges the student reader to critically examine the artistic temperament and to consider an artist who has consistently "pushed the envelope" of conventional life for his creativity. The strength of this work lies in its clear, concise, and brisk exposition of Layton's background, turbulent personality, and conflicts with almost all other Canadian poets, academics, and critics over the function of poetry.

Al Purdy has said that Irving Layton's personality was a fusion of opposites. "Irving Layton," wrote Purdy:
was the Montreal magnet for me . . . . I felt about him as I had not about any other Canadian writer, a kind of awe and surprise that such magical things should pour from an egotistical clown, a charismatic poseur. And I forgive myself for saying these things, which are both true and untrue.

This is the problem with any study of Layton. He is an acclaimed poet in Canada and Europe, has been nominated for the Nobel prize, and is the recipient of many honourary degrees; his art can be both rich and subtle. But as Mansbridge shows, previous biographers have focussed their attention on the negative aspects of Layton's personality.

He can be a "shoddy" human being: an uncaring ass; an incompetent in family matters; a philanderer and a self-aggrandizing egotistical buffoon? Yes, and it all makes for interesting reading, but it does little to increase our understanding of the poet and his work.

Mansbridge writes that Layton has always seen himself as an outsider. The staid life and gentile poetry that WASP-ish Canada produced was not to Layton's temperament. Rather, Layton has always believed that his role was to play a modern-day Joshua trumpeting to bring down the walls of middle-class Philistines. He sees himself as the "hot-blooded Jew cavorting in the Canadian drawing room, kicking out the windows to allow fresh air to enter."

Layton's background and early life were the polar opposite of those of the conventional, middle-class, Christian, Canadian poets of the pre-World War II era. He was born Israel Lazorovitch in Rumania to Jewish parents. In 1913, when Layton was only one year old, his family emigrated to Canada. They settled into Montreal's Jewish ghetto and a life of grinding poverty. But it was also a life of great excitement and vitality. "I loved the noise and confusion," said Layton, "and that is what gave me my first idea of poetry. To be vital, poetry has to exhibit the same kind of chaos and the same wonderful colourful confusion." To this chaos, confusion, and emotion, add confrontation, sarcasm, and iconoclasm, and you have the elements which form Layton's poetry.

According to Mansbridge, that poetry has never received the critical analysis it is due because it does not fit the contemporary post-modern patterns and assumptions of Canadian literature. It is traditional poetry; it is meant to stir the emotions and raise our consciousness. And Layton's antagonism towards the "politically correct" positions of the academy have helped to create less than favourable interpretations of his character.

Francis Mansbridge has done admirable work in Irving Layton: God's Recording Angel. In a short biography, she has created a clear picture of Irving Layton the poet and the man. Her judgements and criticisms of Layton, and his critics, are sound.


Ian Stewart works at a Winnipeg elementary school and the University of Winnipeg library.


Notable Web Sites

Every week, CM presents a brief collection of noteworthy, useful, or just interesting sites we've turned up and actually checked.

Please send us URLs and evaluations of any web-sites you think deserve the exposure.

Street Cents Online

A sharp-looking site brought to you by the award-winning TV show. There's an on-line forum -- current threads include I hate Alanis Morissette (16 msgs), and Tommy Hilfiger shirts:are they really that great? (4 msgs) .

Plus, of course, weekly features --

"THIS WEEK we check out silver dimes and quarters, jobs & job opportunities available to you, what kind of money you can make selling stuff from your home, why nobody will hire you if you're 13 years old, and more."

Canadian Writers on the Web

It's ugly (yellow type on red background!) but here you'll find links to pages devoted to, and in some cases by, Canadian writers including Margaret Laurence, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Stephen Leacock, and William Gibson.

Notable Citizens of Planet Earth Biographical Dictionary

Normally we don't bother reviewing sites that aren't particularly good, or interesting, or something, but this site has been getting a lot of press lately. It bills itself as containing "biographical information on over 18,000 people from ancient times to the present day," and being "a valuable classroom resource. Students use it for research and teachers use it to plan English, Social Studies, History, and other programs." Oh brave new world, etc. Here's what you get if you search for Samuel Johnson:
Johnson, Samuel (Dr. Johnson; the Great Cham of Literature) Eng. aut., critic, & lexicographer; wrote "Dictionary of the English Language" 1747-1755, novel "Rasselas" 1759, 10-volume "Lives of the Poets" 1779-1781 _1709-1784
Okay, correct as far as it goes (I think; I don't even know what a Cham is), but not a lot of information on one of the greatest figures of the eighteenth century. How's it do on the Canadian portion of the quiz? A zero for Robertson Davies, and this for Wayne Gretzky:
Gretzky, Wayne Can. hockey player; holds record for career goals scored _1961--
My desk encyclopedia did better (and was faster) on every query. Plus, it cost a lot less than an Internet connection.

The Dinosauria

A good starting point for research on dinosaurs, with plenty of links to other dinosaur sites. Has a lot of good, basic information:
The term "dinosaur" has had a long history of misrepresentation. A few simple points must be kept in mind when discussing these animals:

Not everything big and dead is a dinosaur.

True enough. Look at progressive rock. . . .

Dave's Searchable Quote Database

Hardly comprehensive (only about 6,500 quotes so far), but you can get a random quote, do a key-word search, or add your own. Found this under "Churchill":
I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.

-- Winston Churchill

Duncan Thornton

Executive Assistant
Peter Tittenberger

Copyright © 1996 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