Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Newfoundland picture books

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.

Whew ! What a whirlwind month of reading July was. For years I have been collecting Newfoundland picture books, and this summer I decided it was time to read them. What criteria did I use for my purchases? Basically, as long as the book was by a Newfoundland author and had a Newfoundland setting, I’d give it a second look. Did quality factor into my decision? Yes and no. I’d glance inside to see if the style grabbed my attention, but beyond that I felt happy to find anything about Newfoundland available for young readers. As my pile of books started to grow, I started to become a little more selective, usually limiting myself to one book on a topic. Otherwise, prior to this round-up, almost anything went.

The total number of Newfoundland books I read for this round-up is twenty-one. Naturally, because my focus was picture books, the majority of them were short reads. Four of my selections ended up fitting in a different category. One was a coffee table book, two were chapter books, and one was a hybrid. The latter’s cute pictures seemed aimed at young readers, but the content was overly long and wordy for normal picture book standards.

During my picture book marathon, I generally felt as if being educated, even though thirteen of my selections were fiction. Of the rest, five of my selections were nonfiction, two were told in song or poetry format, and one was an alphabet book. Of those outside of the nonfiction category, six included supplementary information. In other words, just over half of the books were educational to some degree. If done well, this is a great thing. When a book contains content that might seem foreign to the average reader, it’s highly helpful to provide explanations. Although some selections were done better than others, overall I was impressed with the quality of regional offerings from my province. My main question is: Why did I wait so long to read all these top-notch books?

What about the straight fiction books? Even those possessed strong Newfoundland roots. Author Marion Brake set all of her stories in Newfoundland towns. Moreover, three of her five books featured the Newfoundland pony. Heather Boone, who alas only wrote one book, incorporated several animals into her tale. Author Catherine Simpson also wrote largely about animals, covering ones well-known on the island, such as our beloved Newfoundland dog, the Newfoundland pony, and even polar bears. Actually, animals proved to be the common thread. My favorite was that by Al Pittman, who wrote about a most unusual animal: the sculpin. Although again the quality was mixed, I ended up recommending all of them. If you can find them, they’re all worth at least checking out at your local library.

To be honest, I don’t know if Newfoundland children’s authors truly prefer animal tales. Obviously most kids love animal stories, so perhaps the decision is simply a logical and economic one. Or perhaps the bias towards animal books was my own. Over the years, though, I’ve found a few exceptions, and so also have in my collection a book about berries, another about icebergs, one about the demise of the Newfoundland fishery, and three seasonal stories. A cursory glance at the adult selections suggests, however, that there are other kid-friendly topics ripe for picture book treatment, such as shipwrecks and natural disasters, not to mention a few biographies. I’m looking forward to seeing what picture book themes show up on store shelves in years to come.

On that note, I should say that in the future not anything will go. The bar has been set by the picture books already in my collection. That’s why this summer when I saw its quality was lackluster, I passed on a book about a moose. I felt tempted, given that I did not yet have a Newfoundland picture book about moose.  However, with twenty-one books already in my possession I’m now only looking for the best.

For convenient reference, all the posts related to my Newfoundland picture book round-up are listed below and grouped by category:


Discovering Newfoundland Through Picture Books


Baker, Dawn
A Newfoundland Christmas

Boone, Heather
Tales from Tamarack

Brake, Marion
A Horse Named Lady
Lady’s Big Surprise
The Christmas Sock
It’s Okay to be Different
Newfoundland Pony Tales

Pittman, Al
One Fine Day for A Young Scuplin Named Sam

Simpson, Catherine
There are No Polar Bears Here
Sailor: The Hangashore Dog
The Turnip Top Pony
A Viking Ship for Brendan

Stagg, Bruce
Lucy Grey


Domm, Kristin
Atlantic Puffin

Flynn, Dennis
Newfoundland Pony

Goddard, Sally
Gaddy’s Story

Jackson, Lawrence
Castles in the Sea

Obed, Ellen
Patridgeberry, Redberry, Lingonberry, Too by Ellen Bryan


Baker, Dawn
A Newfoundland Year

Davidge, Bud
The Mummer’s Song


Baker, Dawn
A Newfoundland Alphabet

Baker, Dawn
Brake, Marion

ChristmasSockIn the middle of a different project, author Marion Brake felt inspired to write a story in honor of soldiers and their families. The Christmas Sock is the most professionally produced of all Brake’s books. It’s cloth bound and illustrated by a professional artist, Cassandra Gallant, who also designed Brake’s subsequent fiction. According to Brake, the story flowed easily for her, and one can tell she cares deeply about her characters. Dedicated to a Scottish war bride, friend, and neighbor, The Christmas Sock is a charming story about what matters most during the holidays.

As I read this seasonal tale, I almost felt as if sitting next to Brake and listening to her tale. Her opening description feels immediately inviting: “It was the time of year when everyone started to think about Christmas. There were parties to plan, cookies to bake, and gifts to buy.” Moreover, Brake strikes a delicate balance between creating an atmosphere and establishing a conflict: “Not everyone, however, had money to spend on gifts this year. Isobel Moore’s parents had been one of those parents experiencing hard times.” Brake also understands young people. She knows that even the nicest children care about what their friends think. Hence, while Isobel doesn’t want to hurt her mom’s feelings, she also hates the idea of standing out among her classmates by bringing an old sock as her gift.

If I were to quibble with anything in Brake’s style, it would be that she relies too heavily on telling instead of showing. For example, Brake summarizes Isobel’s reaction to her mom’s idea of decorating an old sock by stating, “Isobel became angry with that suggestion.” There are certainly other times when she does show, such as when Isobel’s mom explains that what’s most important is that they’re giving from their hearts, and Isobel huffs and leaves the house. But she could go even further in showing with the inclusion of dialog, which young children especially love to read.

All this said, Brake at times beautifully captures a scene, such as the evening when Isobel’s mom stays up late to “turn the wool sock into something Isobel would be proud of.” Brake describes how Isobel’s mom rummages through a craft basket, finds dark green velvet material for a cuff, ties on a bow from a gold ribbon, and sprays the sock with green and gold dust. She even adds red buttons and one of three shiny gold buttons that belong to family members who are serving in the army.

Brake has packed a lot of story into twenty-one lavishly illustrated pages. With a few lines of dialog here and there, The Christmas Sock would make for an even stronger story. As it is, this endearing tribute to soldiers and their families brought a smile to my face. That’s enough reason for me to recommend it.

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

How would you rate this book?

horse_ladyPurchasing a horse had been a life-long dream for Newfoundland author Marion Brake. Lady, purchased in the late 1990’s, became the inspiration for her first two books: A Horse Named Lady and Lady’s Big Surprise. Both picture books are somewhat unconventional, yet delightful.

A Horse Named Lady is about a young boy named Simon who wants a horse. His grouchy neighbor owns a horse that he overworks. One day after a visit, Simon senses that Lady is sad and asks his parents about buying her. How she ends up with him forms the rest of the tale.  Lady’s Big Surprise was written based on the popularity of the first and takes place one year later. Lady is overweight and distressed. The family calls the doctor, who gives them some big news: Lady is pregnant! How the new foal settles into the farm forms the rest of the tale. Both tales are simple, as is the artwork, and convey a sweet innocence.

I said these two books are unconventional. How so? If you look at any of the pages, you’ll immediately see a lot of print. Except for the best readers, children in primary grades will need to have their parents read to them. Third graders and older should be able to handle the amount of text, but by this age they will have started to outgrow picture books. The other way Brake’s books are unconventional are in her use of dialog. For example, the first page contains dialog by multiple characters within a single paragraph. Standard grammatical practice would dictate that each time there’s a new speaker, there’s also a new paragraph.


At the back of both of her books, Brake includes photos of the real-life horses who inspired her tales. As I read her Lady stories, I could feel how much love and happiness went into them. They reminded me of years ago, when I jotted down some stories about my own pets. Eventually I compiled my guinea pigs stories into two spiral-bound books which I illustrated and then shared with students at the school where I taught. The students loved the books, especially when I followed-up my readings by bringing my guinea pigs to school for a visit. Some of the teachers thought they were relaxing and fun, and enjoyed them enough to buy copies for themselves. Similarly, when visiting with Brake, she told me about letters she’d received from local students who loved her books and wanted more tales about Lady.

Brake has only limited copies left of her Lady books and doesn’t plan to issue reprints. However, she’s written other books which are equally sweet. Stay tuned throughout the week for more reviews!

My rating? Read them: Borrow from your library or a friend. They’re worth your time.

How would you rate these books?

This month, my husband and I had a fun visit with Newfoundland author Marion Brake, whose books I discovered while researching The Newfoundland Pony. Thanks to Marion, my husband and I were inspired to visit Change Islands and its Newfoundland Pony Sanctuary. You’ll see photos from that visit on Saturday, as part of my weekly snapshot meme.

MarionMarion welcomed us into her home in Gander, where she treated us to a cup of juice, fruit, and muffins. We started out discussing her current books and one topic led to another. Soon, we were chatting about whether we preferred reading e-books or print books and about the differences today in how much authors have to promote themselves.  From there, we turned to talking about personal passions such as our love of animals and of course our home province. She recommended a day trip to a trail and restaurant in Gambo, which my husband and I put on our growing lists of areas to visit during future trips. We even discovered common idiosyncrasies such as our struggle to sleep on airplanes and our need for a GPS for directions. Marion is a bubbly, energetic, and comfortable lady to converse with, and we could have easily talked for hours. My husband and I finally tore ourselves away from our lively conversation, so that Marion could show us her two horses and my husband could take photos.

Marion conveyed such excitement when sharing her books that I asked her to write about her start in writing and the inspiration behind each of her currently available books. Print can never capture an author’s true personality. However, I hope you’ll find her notes of interest. While visiting with Marion, I bought all the books she’s written. You’ll see my reviews of them throughout the week.


I began writing in 1998 after the unexpected death of my father. It became a source of healing for me. I also purchased my first horse which was a life-long dream.  Lady became the inspiration for my first two books: A Horse Named Lady and Lady’s Big Surprise.

Not having any formal writing experience I decided to forge ahead and meet each challenge, learn from my mistakes along the way.  It was definitely a learning experience and I like to encourage children during my visits to never be afraid to do something they want to do because they feel uncertain.

I like to write stories that keep a little “old-fashioned” innocence in them and are fun to read.  Children need to enjoy what they are reading if they are to keep interested.


The idea for this book came when I visited the Newfoundland Pony Sanctuary in Change Islands, Newfoundland, Canada. When leaving I realized the gift shop did not have a little children’s book about the pony to take away.  I decided to write one.  Illustrations for the book were all photographed from original oil paintings by my illustrator, Cassandra Gallant and I donated one of them to the Sanctuary as a fundraiser.


I was working on Newfoundland Pony Tales when the Nancy Grace TV show came on.  At the end of her show she recognizes fallen soldiers.  All of a sudden it just came to me to put down the Newfoundland Pony book and write a Christmas book and dedicate it to soldiers and their families.  I had the title first and the rest just seemed to flow. As the story unfolded, a tribute also fit into the story line.


I got the idea for this story after rescuing two different breed of rabbits in need of a good home, I used the rabbits to help teach children about accepting all the differences in each other. The lucky rabbit ear which comes with the book gives children something tangible to remind them about living caring and helpful lives.


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