Allison's Book Bag

Take A Newfoundland Journey with Dawn Baker

Posted on: July 9, 2013

There once was an artist from Gander,
Who was quite a proud Newfoundlander,
With pictures and rhymes,
She shared her good times,
In this book, through which you can meander.
Flanker Press

The aforementioned artist is Dawn Baker. From a young age, she loved to draw and paint. She moved to Gander as a teenager, where she later held a one-woman exhibition. In 1995 she also created Art Works Studio, through which she self-published three picture books that were subsequently distributed by Flanker Press.

NL_AlphabetA Newfoundland Alphabet was first self-published in 1998 and repackaged by Flanker Press in 2010. For the most part Baker selects one or more nouns to represent aspects of the Newfoundland culture, such as: “Beaches, Barrens, Bakeapples”. Once Baker breaks from the pattern to write a verb phrase: “Digging for Clams.” Occasionally she seems to have been stuck for Newfoundland-specific descriptions and forced to resort to generic ones such as “X marks the spot.” A significant drawback to A Newfoundland Alphabet is that especially when more than one noun is listed, those unfamiliar with our island may not readily recognize which illustration goes with which word.

Despite these flaws, I appreciate all the traditions that Baker captures in A Newfoundland Alphabet. In her note to kids, Baker says that the artwork was created with inexpensive art supplies: regular pencils, colored pencils, charcoal pencils, and chalk pastels. She encourages us to “pull out some of your art supplies and complete a drawing of some of the things in your life”. I can envision A Newfoundland Alphabet being used to inspire future generations to create their own cultural alphabet books, as I did in primary school. 365 Days also notes that of the three reviewed at its blog, A Newfoundland Alphabet is the simplest and thus the most suited to young readers.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

NL_YearWritten in limerick form, A Newfoundland Year was published in 2008. In it Baker invites readers to: “Come take a journey with me, Through a beautiful land by the sea….” The illustrations are pastel and soft on the eyes. PaperTigers also notes that Baker’s illustrations are “reminiscent of her paintings which have been quite prominent in the art community of Newfoundland and Labrador for many years”. As for the content, each new spread introduces a new month, with accompanying limerick and artwork. Some months capture the feel of Newfoundland without requiring one to understand its culture. For example, March describes a typical winter month for any area with much snow: “… Out on skis we’ll go, or snowshoes you know, the beautiful outdoors is calling.” Other months, such as October, draw more heavily on Newfoundland terminology: “Purity Peppermint Nobs and Kisses”. The limericks adhere to the correct rhyming pattern for the most part. Baker has obviously grown as an author, in that the book contains a glossary for those readers who might need an explanation of certain words.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Final cover spread_Layout 1A Newfoundland Christmas departs somewhat from the construction of Dawn Baker’s first two picture books, which are bound with staples; its cover is glossy and the binding is bound with glue. According to Canadian Review of Materials, the illustrations are also a much better showcase for Baker’s artistic talents: “The compositions have a clean, uncluttered look that focuses attention on the central figures, and she incorporates iconic images of Newfoundland culture throughout.” Another difference is that A Newfoundland Christmas presents an actual story. Sarah and Michael are not happy when they learn that they will be going down home to for Christmas, but change their minds when they see all that a outport has to offer at Christmastime. In contrast to A Newfoundland Alphabet, where I found the word choice to be random and even perfunctory, the word choice in A Newfoundland Christmas feels natural and integral to this charming tale. At times, the artwork will help readers understand new words. Other times, an explanation is integrated into the story. For example, Sarah and Michael’s aunt offers them lassy bread, which is described as “warm, spicy bread full of plump raisins”. Shortlisted for the 2012 Heritage and History Book Awards, A Newfoundland Christmas is my favorite of Dawn Baker’s three picture books.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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