Allison's Book Bag

Three Must-Read Newfoundland Picture Books

Posted on: September 7, 2016

The better the quality, the harder it is for me to resist a Newfoundland picture book. This summer, during an annual visit to my home province, I succumbed to temptation and bought three relatively current titles. Each tells an engaging story, boasts attractive illustrations, and even educated me about the world where I grew up. One can’t always say that about regional books and so I’m super proud to introduce three must-read books to you.

A “national best seller” for three consecutive years, Newfoundland and Labrador Lullaby is a soothing ballad written by songwriter Mary Jane Riemann. Each page of this board book contains short and simple phrases, mostly about six to eight words and one to three syllable words. Several of the spreads feature contrasting phrases. For example, “When the sun rises …. Under moonlit skies.” There’s always the reassuring refrain: “I love you.” The artwork is just as charming and sweet. I appreciate too how the paintings capture the multi-faceted culture of the island. Not only are puffins and whales featured, but so are hockey and picnics. The back pages contain ten bulleted points with random interesting facts such as who the first settlers were and what the provincial wildlife is. My favorite tidbit, simply because of the cute wording, is: “Newfoundland is an island. To get here you must fly, take a boat, or be born here.” If you scan the QR code on the back cover, you can hear the song while looking at the book with your little ones!

A Puffin Playing by the Sea is also based on a song. Author Gina Noordhof has rewritten “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to contain a Newfoundland flavor. As a representative on the Canadian Tourism Commission for four years, Noorhof had the unique opportunity to realize how special and individual each province is—including her own. With the help of a whimsical puffin character, aptly picked as the puffin is Newfoundland’s provincial bird, Noordhof highlights twelve distinct features of the island. The first spread starts out with the familiar refrain: “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me.” Then Noordhof mixes up the traditional carol by ending with the words: “A puffin playing by the sea.” Pictured is a colorful line-drawing of a puffin with a fish in its mouth and looking out to sea. The spread also contains an educational sidebar that details the origins and lifestyle of the puffin. Within the sidebar is also an actual photo of a puffin. On subsequent pages, all just as professionally-rendered, other gifts include: tea dolls, Norsemen, canines, caribou, lighthouses, seals, mummers, whales, codfish, fiddlers, and drummers. As with the Newfoundland and Labrador Lullaby, I appreciated diverse the subjects were that Noordhoff featured. Both those familiar and unfamiliar with Canada’s most eastern province will find themselves educated in an entertaining manner.

A Good Day for Billie is my only pick in this round-up that contains a tale told in a traditional narrative format. This picture book is the result of the author, Rodger Blake, telling bedtime stories to his children. At the forefront is a puffin who enjoys exploring the coastal shores of Newfoundland. One day while Billie is flipping seashells on the beach, he encounters a reddish-orange creature with eight legs. Lava instantly informs Billie that penguins and crabs being friends would be a waste of time. Billie leaves Lava alone but, for the entire rest of the day, both creatures wrestle with doubts about their decision. Although the text is of length that an adult will no doubt need to read the story, the tale is perfectly told. Part of what I most appreciate about A Good Day for Billie is how integral the island’s distinctive features are to the story. Billie encounters fishing villages, icebergs, and many other coastal images all as part of his journey to ask a friend for advice. Even the character of a whale named Charlie is a natural fit. Just as perfectly rendered are the gentle color-pencil illustrations of blue, green, orange, and brown hues. A Good Day for Billie is an absolute delight!

After stockpiling a collection of twenty-one Newfoundland picture books, I decided in 2013 that it was time to become more selective over my purchases. No longer would a title being written by a Newfoundlander and being set in my home province satisfy my literary tastes. Instead I wanted the quality of subsequent purchases to reach the level of the average commercial picture book. The three selections reviewed here I believe will tempt any young reader as much as they did me.

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