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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Children’s Literature In Canada: A Trip to a Land Where People Put Gravy on Fries

A good smattering of theater is definitely what the doctor ordered when we hit the bleary days of July.  Yet it seems that the only way this particular New York native is able to see the stuff is to hop in a rented car and drive to Canada for the Stratford, Ontario Shakespeare Festival once a year.  Sure, I could probably go to a theater here in town but it’s more fun to a place where the word "sorry" rhymes with "lorry".

This year my husband and I figured out that with the rise in gas prices you can pretty much get rush tickets for any show you’d like to see in Stratford on the cheap.  So it was that we saw All’s Well That Ends Well, the actor Simon Callow performing the sonnets in a new order, The Music Man, and Cabaret.  I can’t recommend this experience enough.  It’s just the most relaxing thing.  You eat good food, see cool shows, and avoid getting bitten by enormous swans and one new white goose.

Actual cool food eaten while there:

Nope.  I wasn’t the one who stuck the chicken bones in.  That was done entirely by the fancy restaurant we went to.  They were also very fond of shapes.

It isn’t often that you can say your dessert is swearing at you like it’s in a cartoon.  This was one of those rare times.

Of course, half my brain is always thinking about children’s literature and what better place to find it than in the many bookstores of the town?  I was amused by this sign, posted strategically at one of the shops we entered while there:


Here are some shots from the official Festival Theater’s gift shop.  It’s ironic that Roger Sutton would have been speaking about The Umbrella Queen on the very day I was at the store, since here it is on display.

Now as you can see they’ve managed to display some lovely Phaidon titles of the reprinted old Bob Gill titles A Balloon for a Blunderbuss and What Colour is Your World?.  There were also lots of Kenneth Oppel titles and quite a bit of Jacob Two-Two as well.  This was because Mr. Oppel and Jacob’s Mordecai Richler were both slated to speak in town (not when I would be around, consarn it). 

Now my friend Dan thinks that Jacob Two-Two is a well-known book series for kids.  I know of it, but didn’t read them as a kid.  What say you, oh reading public?  Is Jacob Two-Two known to you in any way?

Now here’s a bit of investigative reporting my husband and I performed in terms of Shakespearean graphic novels.  Matt, the resident husband, is to comics what I am to children’s literature.  We complement one another well, and he called me over to take a gander at the graphic novel section seen here.  We decided to set about figuring out which ones were the best.  It’s not enough to just draw some quick pictures and throw Shakespeare’s words into speech balloons.  If you want to include Shakespearean graphic novels in your library or bookstore, the sheer plethora of them out there means that you can pick and choose the best.

After looking through them all our conclusion was that the No Fear Shakespeare titles produced by Spark Notes would have been the best had the text not been "translated".  The art was original and interesting which makes the change in the words all the sadder.  You can see the No Fear versions of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet on the top shelf here.  Clearly this came the closest to being a great comic Shakespeare.

Other graphic novels there included the Picture This Shakespeare series by Barron’s (meh), the Graphic Shakespeare Library by Black Dog and Levanthal Publishers (meh), and the cheap and rather horrid Manga Shakespeare produced by Amulet (bleh).  That Manga Shakespeare was the cheapest of the lot.  Americanized manga thrown together with a bit of fancy words on the side.  Oog.  The Merchant of Venice graphic novel that came out this year from Candlewick was also included in this display, but the book confused me.  That title attempts to tell the story straight without any reinterpretation.  This is fine for a textbook, but considering how problematic that particular problem play is, I’m not sure if a rote retelling is the best for the graphic novel format.  Just saying.  All in all, we still haven’t see a truly great combination of Shakespeare and visual elements.  Anyone wishing to dip a toe in the public domain will have very little competition in this area.

People who wish to infuse their children with a little "culture" were able to do so with ease.  Here are the Greek myth books:


The Poetry books (they like their Candlewick):

The obligatory Robert Munsch section (note the French version of that book):

And for you Maureen Johnson fans out there, I saw one of her books just ah-sitting out on a table:

One thing that shocked me a little bit about Stratford was the complete and utter absence of Good Masters, Sweet Ladies on the shelves.  Everywhere we went there would be big children’s sections on plays, Shakespeare, theater, and monologues.  They even had that new book Acting Out: Six One-Act Plays everywhere you went but our newest Newbery winner?  Actual honest-to-goodness monologues for kids?  Nowhere to be seen.

I also had the chance to hang out with up-and-coming author R.J. Anderson.  Her book Knife (called Spellhunter or Spell Hunter here in America, I believe) is due on our shelves in 2009.  Haven’t read it yet myself, but Ms. Anderson was able to show us the cover of the British edition and that was mighty fine.  My husband has a theory that someday we will be rich and will be able to retire to Stratford to live out the remainder of our years.  This is a good plan.  I think I will supplement it by hoping that a whole crop of children and YA authors also appear there at that time. 

Oh.  One reason why you may not want to go to Stratford.  The restrooms clearly encourage the dismembering of babies.  Observe:

How has THAT little detail never made it into the news?

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. R.J. Anderson says:

    Hee yet again on the baby-in-pieces sign. And thanks for the mention and the pic! It was splendid to hang out with you, however briefly.

    Further to your post, I went into the local children’s bookstore today and specifically asked for Good Masters, Sweet Ladies by name. They said they didn’t have any in right now but could order it. If you asked about it too, they might just get on the ball…

  2. Eva Mitnick says:

    As a child in the 70’s, I listened to an audiobook of Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang dozens and dozens of times.
    “I want two pounds of firm red tomahtoes. I want two pounds of firm red tomahtoes.” Heh! Loved that ratty old cassette tape.
    Did you know there’s an animated version of the book, plus a live version starring Gary Busey and Miranda Richardson? I didn’t, either.

  3. Fuse #8 says:

    You had me at “live version starring Gary Busey…”

  4. Sara O'Leary says:

    Just lost my comment by including a link. Finnegan begin again.
    The link was for Classical Comics – a UK imprint that is doing very nice Shakespearean graphic novels. One of the things I like best about them is that they print three versions, suitable for differing reading levels and one which includes the original text.
    Worth checking out.
    Also wanted to say that Mordecai Richler has moved on to the great tomato farm in the sky but that it could have been one of the younger writing Richlers who was in town. (There’s even one called Jacob.)

  5. Sounds awesome.

    You should probably know that in Baltimore, fries are eaten with gravy. We call them “gravy fries”, Clever, no?

  6. Fuse #8 says:

    Huh. Well I guess we can assume that the exhumed body of Mr. Richler wasn’t conducting talks with kids, so you may be right about the son. I’ll have to fish out my program to see why I was under the impression that he was mobile. And gravy on fries is one of those things that sounds so wrong until you realize that it’s just gravy on potatoes. And that makes sense, right? Still…

  7. Sara O;Leary says:

    Well, if you’d ventured a little further eat you might have been offered poutine – fries with gravy AND cheese curd! Quebec cuisine at its finest.

  8. Karen Wenborn says:

    Fries with gravy AND cheese curd? I’m over there! Hi all, as one of the folk from the above mentioned Classical Comics, I’ve dropped in to say that we’d be delighted to send you samples of the Shakespeare books – full Original Text being one of the three versions we offer, as Sara so rightly says. All will become clear regarding the rationale behind the different versions on seeing the books or visiting the site. We think that the artwork is rather engaging too! :-) Let me know where to send them. Regards, Karen