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I Gave My Mom a Castle

by Jean Little, Kady MacDonald Denton, illus.

Giving presents and getting presents: both are often fun, but not always easy. Jean Little’s many well-loved novels and poems explore the difficulties as well as the joys of family life, and this new poem collection explores the mixed feelings created by the wrong gift, or a gift wrongly received.

The gifts and the moods range widely, though most have an ironic touch. There is light humour, as when the speaker graciously accepts a baby sister’s gift of a dead worm, which was vigorously rejected by other family members. Others have an edge of pain, when heartfelt gifts to a parent are slightingly received, or a teacher forces a boy in foster care to join in the class project of creating a Mother’s Day card. A number of the poems mention books, from the Baby-sitters Club series to The Dark is Rising, and one ruefully contemplates the length of a Christmas afternoon when not one of the gifts was a book. Very accessible, the poems – a straightforward account of experience and feeling – read like prose. Readers who love rhythm and rhyme might be disappointed, but can enjoy traditional verse in one poem that cheerfully lists all the glamorous gifts that pale beside the pleasure of having two dogs waiting for you at home.

Generously interspersed among the poems, the expressive two-colour drawings of Kady MacDonald Denton enhance Little’s kindly, empathetic humour with their own distinctive vision of family life. Together, they make a book about giving that is itself an excellent gift.