One Shot World Tour: O Canada! with Jessica Meserve and Martha Brooks

h1 March 26th, 2008 by Eisha and Jules

jules: It’s another multi-blog One-Shot World Tour Day (our most recent one being a visit to Australia with our Margo Lanagan interview last August, though I could have sworn we participated in another One-Shot Day. Ah well, moving on . . . ). Today several blogs will be writing about Canadian authors, and I thought I’d talk a bit about an illustrator whose work I think is one-to-watch, and that would be Jessica Meserve. Granted, she was born in New Hampshire, apparently, but she now lives in Edmonton, Canada. Just humor me here. I really want to tell you about this book.

As I mentioned in this recent post about Jessica’s debut title (Small Sister; Clarion Books; May 2007), Meserve studied illustration at Edinburgh College of Art, worked in publishing as a children’s book designer, and is now freelance illustrating. And Jessica’s done the illustrations for a new early chapter-book from Candlewick, Daisy Dawson Is on Her Way! by British author Steve Voake (just released yesterday, according to this link).

And I’d like to say that this book will so entirely wrap you around its finger and not let you go. Fortunately for us all, the front jacket flap says that “Steve Voake introduces beginning readers to a little girl with a big heart.” Yes, that emphasis is mine, and color me jumping-up-and-down, since that statement indicates we might have a series on our hands here.

When we meet Daisy Dawson in Chapter 1 (“An Unusual Conversation”), she’s late for class at Nettlegreen Elementary School — yet again — her mother reminding her, as is her habit, “Daisy, don’t dawdle!” Actually, she’d been late three times the week before. “That meant she had actually been on time twice.” Ah, she’s an optimist! Catching sight of a beautiful yellow butterfly stuck in a spider’s web, Daisy saves the insect and releases it. It’s at this moment that something extraordinary happens:

As Daisy watched it fly away, her cheek began to tingle as though something was sparkling beneath her skin. She touched a hand to her face, and a delicious warm feeling fizzed along her fingers, tumbling like a wave through her whole body until it reached all the way down to the tips of her toes.

“That’s strange,” she whispered.

Turns out that, as a result of what must have been a magic butterfly, Daisy can understand exactly what the blackbirds are singing about, her dog begins to talk to her, and the small gerbils in her classroom (once she finally makes it there), Burble and Furball, speak to her as well. Oh and there’s a singing and dancing ant you must meet, too. Lucky for Daisy, I might add: Her new skill comes in quite handy when her farmyard dog, Boom, goes missing. Daisy; a top-secret-mission squirrel (who speaks in code and says things like, “THE BLUE DONKEY IS UNDER THE MATTRESS!”); and a horse named Meadowsweet join forces to come to the dog’s rescue.

There are a lot of things about this early chapter-book that work and work well: all the understated, charming humor (the dog telling her, “My name’s not Rover, by the way. It’s Boom,” as he was born on the Fourth of July); the appeal the book has for wee animal lovers (I mean, come on. TALKING ANIMALS!! There’s even a snooty cat named Trixie); some fun wordplay (the ants telling Daisy, when she remarks that it’s hard to believe she can hear animals talking, that if she were dreaming, she’d be “snorking” — not to mention the “sky-flowers,” or fireworks, of Chapter 4); the aforementioned Meadowsweet, the fabulously sweet and very mother-like horse who simply will not hear of the type of talk that will dampen Daisy’s spirits and who saves the day in one glorious sailing leap over a fence and nails Daisy as the “brave soldier” that she is; and a heart at the book’s center that makes a statement about friendship: “Friends belong to one another,” Daisy tells Boom, to which Meadowsweet responds, “It’s the best sort of belonging there is.”

Best of all, the book closes with a glowinggorgeousLOVELY chapter in which Daisy, just beginning to think about coming-of-age, comes to accept what Meadowsweet calls the magic inside her (otherwise known as her very active imagination) after a grumpy farmer, whose inner child checked out a long time ago, tries to squelch her delight and radiant Daisy-ness (“Reckon you should be in school learning something useful, young ‘un . . . Not wastin’ your time talkin’ to dumb animals”). “It’s part of who you are, Daisy Dawson,” Meadowsweet tells her, “and that is a very rare thing.”

Meserve’s black-and-white ink-and-pencil sketches here are sweetly-rendered and capture the joy and wonder of Daisy’s world, never overpowering the text but, instead, perfectly complementing it. I hope the Daisy Dawson saga continues and that Meserve continues to bring them to life. (In fact, if you are familiar with Small Sister, Meserve’s debut picture book, you’ll see a great likeness between Daisy and Small).

A web search shows me that Meserve has a forthcoming June title, Can Anybody Hear Me? (Andersen Press). I’ll be watching with interest.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll get to know Daisy. I heartily recommend her story, especially to your favorite wee person who love animals and is reading on his/her own now and ready for those chapter books. This is a chapter book with tremendous heart and style.

* * * * * * *

Mistik Lake by Martha Brooks eisha: I’m chiming in with a Canadian author for an older audience: the venerable Martha Brooks. Her most recent teen novel, Mistik Lake (Melanie Kroupa/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007), takes a slow, thoughtful look at family dysfunction, delving through three generations’ worth of secrets and sorrows in a small Manitoba town.

Everyone in tiny Mistik Lake was affected by the tragic car accident that took the lives of three teenagers in 1981 – but none more so than the lone survivor, Sally. Her pervasive guilt over the incident informs everything that happens afterwards: her young marriage, motherhood, alcoholism, and her eventual decision to leave her husband and three daughters for a film director and move to Iceland. Now her oldest daughter, Odella, is seventeen, and is starting to chafe at having been the responsible one in her family for so long. Not to mention all the mystery around her mother’s accident, her new life in Iceland, and Odella’s Great Aunt Gloria, who doesn’t visit as often as she used to and seems to have secrets of her own. And then she meets Jimmy Tomasson, and dutiful, responsible Odella takes a flying leap into the unknown and gets a taste of something she’s never had before: happiness.

Be forewarned: this novel is not for those who like a lot of fast-paced action or edge-of-your-seat plot. This is a languid, melancholy reverie; switching narrators between Odella, Jimmy and Gloria as it examines all the ways the characters are interconnected, and how the secrets that some carry become unbearably burdensome as those characters try to keep them from the next generation. This is also a very adult-oriented novel for the YA label, which might be off-putting to some. But the issues that the adults are dealing with all have roots in their youth, which is often revealed through a sort of timeline of memories for each character.

All this to say: this is not the novel you hand to a reluctant twelve-year-old reader hoping to hook that short attention span. This is definitely an older-teen novel (Did I mention the sex? Actually, that part might get a reluctant reader’s attention…) for an experienced and patient reader. But that reader will be rewarded with fully-fledged characters, emotional depth, an unusually broad scope for a teen novel, and an incredibly romantic love story that will make you wish you had a Jimmy Tomasson of your very own. Martha Brooks also has a deft touch when it comes to descriptive imagery that really puts you there, in the moment:

Smoke drifted over the trees from various cottage fireplaces. Across the valley a farmer burned stubble. I watched an early rising half-moon, turned my head back, and suddenly he was there — as if I’d conjured him up — walking along the shoreline.

He moved toward me as if he had something important to say but there was no need to hurry. I didn’t know it yet — that slow walk — how it would ruin me for other boys, as I watched him pick his way around a boulder that rested in the water, soaking his shoes, drenching his pants.

I love how careful she is with her descriptions, never laying it on too thick. It’s almost abrupt, the way the images come at you – barely sketched out, one after another – but it works. It feels like natural thought.

All in all, there’s a lot to like about this novel. I’m ashamed to say this, but it’s my first Martha Brooks. Somehow I just haven’t gotten around to reading True Confessions of a Heartless Girl, despite that fabulous cover art on the hardback edition (What the hell is up with the paperback cover? Ew.) But I’m seriously intrigued now, and fully intend to explore more of what this talented author has to offer. You might like to do the same.

* * * * * * *

One Shot World Tour: O Canada! edition, is organized by Colleen at Chasing Ray. Check it out to see what authors are being featured at other blogs. And thanks for visiting, eh!

(Oh god. Sorry, sorry, it just slipped out. I swore I wasn’t going to do that.)





6 comments to “One Shot World Tour: O Canada! with Jessica Meserve and Martha Brooks”

  1. I really liked Mistik Lake. I haven’t read True… either.


  2. Thanks, LW. Now I don’t feel so alone. If you do read it, please tell me what you think about how it compares.


  3. Hey, I grew up with three generations’ worth of secrets and sorrows in a small Manitoba town, but had never heard of this author. Thanks for the tip.

    Might be a bit like reading A Complicated Kindness, which I highly recommend (I suspect it was ignored in the U.S.). It might almost qualify for an older-YA label too, with a very compelling 16-year-old telling the story.


  4. Jeremy, it sounds like you need to write a book of your own. Thanks for the rec – you’re right, I haven’t heard anything about it, but I’m intrigued.


  5. I’ve finally made with peace with the idea that I don’t actually have the great…err…Canadian novel floating around in my head. Like most liberal arts types, I really believed that I did, for way too long.

    But yes, it would make my year to see A Complicated Kindness reviewed on Seven Imp. Or just read it and don’t review it. And I guess it wasn’t totally ignored in the U.S., but it had huge buzz in Canada, at least in my circles.


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