Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Back When Toronto Inspired Illustrations

So the other day I went to my depilatrix and as always, while she yanks out my hair, we chat. She has terrific stories and this time she told me all about her husband's dream, which was truly fantastic. I won't re-tell it here. There was nothing naughty about it, but it's not my story to tell. Anyhow, the dream-story reminded me of Robert Munsch's story, Jonathan Cleaned Up - Then He Heard a Sound or Blackberry Subway Jam.

I re-read my little Annikins version today. (Annikins are and were mini-books "small enough to fit into tiny hands and pockets".)

The story remains terrific and the illustrations by Michael Martchenko are as light and charming as ever.

What surprised me, though, is the amount of nostalgia packed into the book that has nothing to do with the story. It is a fourth edition, printed in 1982. Annick Press, the publisher, was based in Toronto. They were distributed by Firefly Press (still are) - but it was a different time when the distributor's phone number was printed on the back inside cover.

The subway on the front of the book is the old red TTC train that was just being phased out when my family moved to Canada. The streetcar outside City Hall is also an old red car and City Hall itself (in the book) is the one at Bay and Queen - now known as Old City Hall. I would link to photos of old streetcars, but I can't find any. If you're not from Toronto and don't recognize the transit system or the City Hall, it won't matter. The only thing that may date the book for you is the "big shining computer machine" that Jonathan discovers at City Hall. Martchenko's illustration of it with rows and rows of reel-to-reel tape decks is a little quaint.

None of this, however, affects the story. It's still a funny story where moms want living rooms to stay neat, and bureaucrats spend $10 million on things that don't work. The story, 27 years old, remains delightful.

I have also discovered that you can download audio files of Robert Munsch telling stories for free from his website. So you can hear the whole story right now! But you may as well order the Annikin book too. It's only $1.50, and the illustrations are well worth it. Buy a whole bunch and distribute them to children - all those Christmas toy drives are coming up soon!

No comments: