Take a Picture Book Journey with Catherine Simpson

To accompany this week’s profile of an animal rescue in Newfoundland, I’d like to introduce you to three animal picture books by a Newfoundland author. Catherine Simpson is originally from my home town of Grand Falls-Windsor. Her writings showcase animals: polar bears, Newfoundland dogs, and Newfoundland ponies.

NoPolarBearsThere Are No Polar Bears Here is about young Kerry, who one day in May is picking partridgeberries on a hill in a Newfoundland cove. Her bucket is almost full when she looks up and spies a bear. “A polar bear. Jumpins!” Having learned about bears in school, Kerry reacts more calmly than perhaps many of us would. She simply pushes her berries towards the polar bear and then slowly backs away. She tells everyone she meets that she has seen a polar bear, but they all rebuff her claims with the same six words used as the book’s title: “There are no polar bears here.” The bear keeps showing up in the oddest spots, until Kerry finally figures out a way to prove everyone wrong. While I found it unusual that Kerry knew so much about polar bears when apparently the townsfolk had never seen one in their little community, I did enjoy the doggone determination of the polar bear in seeking out Kerry and her creativity in making his presence known to the doubters. Another wonderful aspect of There Are No Polar Bears Here is how naturally the  Newfoundland dialect and traditions are interwoven into the entertaining story.

SailorSailor: The Hangashore Newfoundland Dog is about a young boy named Ike and his Newfoundland dog. Contrary to expectations, Sailor will not go into the water. Whether the family is swimming, skating, berry-picking, or trouting, Sailor remains ashore. Consequently, most everyone teases Sailor. Residents offered plausible explanations for Sailor’s reluctance and Ike tries to encourage his dog to enter the water. Up until this point, I like the story well enough. Then one day Ike’s friends play follow-the-leader, jumping from one pan of drift ice to another. Can you guess what happens next? This book is my least favorite of the four because it is the most predictable. But I love Snook’s gorgeous renderings of Sailor. I also enjoyed the unique description by Simpson, such as: “Ike loved Sailor’s brown eyes and thick soft ears, and big tongue, as pink as bubble gum.” By the way, “hangashore” is Newfoundland slang for a person who is too lazy to fish.

TurnipTopPonyThe Turnip Top Pony is about Susan and her Newfoundland pony named Kit. Susan tries to tell her family that Kit won’t stay in the community pasture, where Kit is put for the summer. The parents think Kit will enjoy a summer holiday after a long winter of work, but each night Kit finds a way to escape the pasture. Unfortunately, an irritated neighbor also shows up each morning and accuses Kit of eating turnip tops from their garden. Susan tries pointing out the clues which prove Kit isn’t to blame, but no one listens to her. The revelation of who has been eating the turnip tops is delightful and true to the Newfoundland locale. Except for the negative facial expressions, all the artwork is excellently drawn. This is my favorite of Simpson’s  picture books.

Whenever I’m in Newfoundland visiting my family, I try to meet with local authors. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find contact information for Simpson. I’ll keep searching, though, because I’d love to interview her. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing what Newfoundland icon Simpson next puts to fiction. Her books are a fun collection for any library!

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