CM January 19, 
1996. Vol. 2, Number 14

image Behind the Story:
The People who Create our Best Children's Books . . . and How They Do It!

General Editor: Barbara Greenwood.
Markham, ON: Pembroke Publishers Limited, 1995. 86pp, paper, $14.95.
ISBN: 1-55138-055-7.

Grades 4 - 10 / Ages 9 - 15 / Professional Reference.
Review By Janie Wilkins.


When Paulette Bourgeois decided to write books for children she read every picture book in the library, then sat at her desk, frustrated. "What could I write? I had no ideas" she says now. "I was afraid that they had all been written." Then she heard Hawkeye Pierce, in a M*A*S*H rerun, say he was so claustrophobic that if he were a turtle, he'd be scared to go inside his shell. Thus was born Franklin in the Dark, the now famous story of the little turtle so afraid of the dark that he couldn't climb into his shell.
Today, more than 100,000 copies of Franklin's story are in circulation in many languages, including French, Danish, Dutch, Finnish and Japanese.

Paulette Bourgeois is but one of the twenty-two profiles featured in Behind the Story, a collection of biographies compiled by the Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators and Performers (CANSCAIP). CANSCAIP members are published children's authors and illustrators or performing artists who are "active" in the front lines of the profession. CANSCAIP began creating biographical records in 1979, and in 1990, thirty-seven of these biographies were published in Presenting Authors, Illustrators and Performers. They have also published two editions of the CANSCAIP Companion, in 1991 and 1994. This work is a directory -- with brief biographies -- of all 260 members of the organization.

Behind the Story is a welcome addition to the works produced and published by CANSCAIP. Promoting Canadian artists and their work is important, and it is encouraging to see books such as this being produced.

The biographies contained in this volume are open, honest, and enjoyable to read. They allow the reader to gain a better understanding of the professional and personal lives of each artist being profiled. They are conversational in tone and liberally sprinkled with lively anecdotes. Many of the sketches focus on the creative process required to write, illustrate, or perform. If you have ever wondered where writers get their ideas, then this volume will provide you with plenty of insight and answers.

Each biography began as a personal interview, and was written by a CANSCAIP member. Thus, the list of contributors is as impressive as the list of those featured. For instance, Kit Pearson wrote the profile of Ann Blades, and Kathy Stinson that of Margaret Buffie.

Barbara Greenwood, one of Canada's best known children's authors, figures prominently. She is the editor of the project, wrote several of the profiles, and is included herself. Each biographical sketch is followed by appropriate lists, such as "Published Works" and "Awards," that summarize and highlight the subject's career or accomplishments. Other authors and illustrators featured in this collection include: Tololwa M. Mollell, Barbara Smucker, Kathy Stinson, Paul Kropp, Sarah Ellis, and Michael Martchenko.

Tollel M. Mollel - Paulette Bourgeois - Michael Martchenko

The profiles average three pages in length and can be read in approximately twenty minutes. The easy readability and length of the biographies make them perfect for classroom use. Teachers can share these profiles with students to introduce novels and books, or as a way of promoting Canadian literature and culture. Students in the upper junior or intermediate grades will enjoy reading the profiles on their own. Teachers and other professionals, such as librarians, will be able to use Behind the Story as a reference source.

The book is well designed overall, with an especially bright and appealing cover. It is, however, disappointing that the publishers chose to use a heavy newsprint instead of a higher quality paper. And colour photographs would have been a nice addition. There is no index, but the Table of Contents is a sufficient guide to the information contained in the volume.

Along with the twenty-two entertaining biographies is an Appendix in three useful and informative sections. The first section is a two-page guide on how to prepare for and host a visit from an author or performer. The second section is a student handout entitled "Writing Profiles" which gives instructions on how to interview and write biographies. (These two sections are copyright cleared for classroom use.) The last section contains detailed descriptions of major Canadian book awards and prizes -- a valuable reference source on its own. A bibliographical listing of other sources of biographical information or works on children's literature is also included.

This is a book with multiple uses and a wide audience appeal; a worthwhile addition to a school classroom or public library collection.

Highly recommended.

Janie Wilkins is currently on leave from her position as an elementary school teacher in Kingston, Ontario to earn a Masters of Library and Information from the University of Western Ontario.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to

Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

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