CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 13 . . . . December 1, 2017
Just in time for Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation comes The Curiosity Cabinet by Canada's own Ian Wallace. This unique book offers an intimate glimpse into the lived experiences of the celebrated author and illustrator whose numerous past publications in children's literature, including Boy of the Deeps (author & illustrator), The Huron Carol (illustrator), and the Canadian Railroad Trilogy (illustrator), have entertained readers for decades through their distinctively Canadian perspectives. Wallace's original artistic style is beautifully showcased in The Curiosity Cabinet.
After years of visiting countless cities and towns across Canada and sharing his stories and work with schools and communities, Wallace had the good fortune of meeting individuals of all ages, many of whom provided him with gifts as tokens of their appreciation for his time and contributions. These cherished keepsakes, alongside other souvenirs from Wallace's travels, are kept on display in a special cabinet in his home, a cabinet which Wallace has affectionately nicknamed his "Curiosity Cabinet". The contents of this beloved cabinet, which is said to house over four decades worth of mementos, served as the inspiration behind the exquisite set of black and white illustrations included in the book. Each sketch, created using pencil on watercolour paper, is masterfully done. Wallace's depiction of light and shadow provides a lifelike feel to the images, and the creative front and back endpapers allow for extended bonus content beyond the page limitations.
In each double page spread, readers are treated to a new illustration which introduces items from the cabinet alongside the "experience" of visiting a particular location in Canada. Specifically, Wallace offers a new illustration for each of the provinces he has visited and interweaves cherished memories and cultural features that are associative to the people and traditions of individual communities. For the reader, the experience of exploring each page is almost like peering directly into Wallace's cabinet, while simultaneously being transported into a memory frozen in time. Although the majority of the book holds personal significance primarily to the author, readers can associate with many of the themes presented in the images which mirror each province's unique essence, such as seaside encounters for Nova Scotia and the Maritimes.
The provided introductory and endnotes are essential in comprehending the content and fully appreciating its diversity and intricacy. In these pages, Wallace offers explanations of the visual representations while also adding to each account by retelling brief narratives of his past encounters and the influence they have had on his own journey and artistic career. The Curiosity Cabinet would serve as a wonderful tool for use in the classroom during discussions related to Canadian culture, geography, and history. Students may be motivated in reading this book to create their own curiosity cabinet containing artifacts which have inspired them in some manner throughout their lives. While the content is presented in picture book format, it does not follow the conventions of a traditional storyline and plot, and the textual notes are quite advanced. Therefore, it would be best reserved for slightly older audiences or read with adult assistance.
The stunning artwork and cultural themes in The Curiosity Cabinet make it a must-have piece of Canadiana. This special book is sure to find a permanent home in the hearts of readers as well as book "cabinets" of school and home libraries alike.
Christina Quintiliani is an Ontario Certified Teacher and Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Education, Brock University, St. Catharines, ON., where she is researching children's literature.