Garbage Creek and Other Stories.
W. D. Valgardson.
Grades 3 - 6 / Ages 8 - 11.
"That kid's got a problem," his brother said, after Sam had disappeared into the Internet.In these eight stories, Valgardson has brought together children who each have to overcome external dilemmas which they resolve by relying on internal resources. Erin must convince her uncommunicative, practical father why he should not sell an unproductive tract of scrub land that she loves. Sam, the computer enthusiast, uses the physics knowledge he gained on the Internet to save his drowning father. Richard comes to terms with his homesickness for Port Alberni after he befriends a little Chinese girl who lost more than he can imagine. They are simply-told tales of resourceful young people who don't agonize over their problems; they just solve them.
"It's just a stage," his mother said. "With you it was skateboards."
"He reads the dictionary," his sister complained. "If we don't do something, he'll carry a briefcase and wear one of those plastic things in his shirt pocket when he goes into grade nine. I'll be ostracized."
"We need to open a dialogue with him," his father said. He taught at the local college. "Communication is everything."
At supper, Sam's father suddenly blurted out, "Dinosaurs." Someone at work had told him dinosaurs were very popular.
"A group of extinct reptiles, widely distributed during the Mesozoic period. Anything you want to know, I can find for you on http://cord.iupui.edu/~nmrosentallabout.html." To mark the slashes, Sam swung his right hand up and down at an angle.
"What am I going to do?" Carol asked her mother. "His role model is Data. He wants to be an android."
Their mother's basic life philosophy was that everything would come out all right eventually, but even she looked a bit concerned. Sort of the way she'd looked when Carol had got her nose ring.
As seen in the excerpt above, Valgardson uses short sentences, a minimum of adjectives and plenty of dialogue in his stories. Time is also compressed in several of the stories, with eight weeks zipping by in 10 pages of "Not Lonely", several months in "The Secret" and three seasons in "Garbage Creek". This abbreviated style of writing, along with a lack of introspection, makes for a quick read. Parents and children alike are realistically drawn with sympathy and touches of humour. The adults are not generally central to the stories but are catalysts to the action. There are a variety of cultures included - Ukrainian, Cantonese, Cowichan - and both genders are equally represented. While this book will likely have wide appeal to young readers, they will not be drawn to the cover illustration of a native girl and white boy picking garbage out of a stream. The black and white sketches inside are especially poorly executed and disappointing.
Written for an older audience than Valgardson's previous books for children, Thor and Sarah and the People of Sand River, his style of emotional understatement is well-suited to the stories in this collection. Without patronizing or preaching, Valgardson empowers the children in these stories to make a difference in their small worlds.
Alison Mews is the Coordinator of the Centre for Instructional Services in the Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - JANUARY 16, 1998.
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