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Horsy-Hops: A Newfoundland Bestiary

by Anthony Barton

There’s nothing quite like meeting some new monsters when you’re feeling blah, so I approached this colourful volume with some anticipation. The artwork doesn’t disappoint. Particularly strong are pages that present a fresh beast framed with fanciful borders, made up of Edvard Munch-like skulls or exotic marine motifs. Barton’s more active illustrations of the wicked beasts’ tussles with a little blond girl remind me of the playful yet slightly sinister drawings in the German children’s classic Slovenly Peter. The text is not nearly so macabre, however, as the child’s opponents are easily foiled by simple strategies such as removing headgear or offering gifts.

As well as being a bestiary, this book acts as a glossary for some lively local lingo: an “owenshook” (delectable word) while depicted as a demented marmalade cat, is merely a Newfoundland term for a fool; an “angle-dog” is a worm baited on a hook, though Barton imagines it as a gargoyle-like canine.

This is all good fun; sadly, the verse is not always up to the concepts and illustrations. Barton never settles on a consistent rhyme scheme and, like many poets for children (Sheree Fitch, Phoebe Gilman, Ludwig
Bemelmans), doesn’t concern himself much with scansion: “While Horsy-hops is standing there/wondering why his feet are bare,/you can go clumping home and drink tea/WONK WONK WONK WONK/ from his rubber boots.” Curiously, musician Fergus O’Bryne’s version of the stanza in the song he wrote that follows the text scans perfectly (“go clumping home and tea prepare”).

Scansion aside, children under five will relish the book’s arrant silliness and vivid artwork, while parents savour the new phrases.