Child language is a subject in which everyone is an expert. All parents study their children's language carefully, if undeliberately, and every family has its precious memories of the unique verbal improvisations of childhood. For writers who continually struggle with and revel in the mysteries of language, the language of children holds a special attraction.
Everyday Magic looks at the way Canadian writers have written through, as distinct from for or about, children, at the ways they have used 'child language' and children's models of perception to achieve various literary effects. It describes how texts might be shaped by child usage and speculates that adult artists often find themselves surprised and informed by the child language they seek to create.
Ricou examines how the distinctive features of child language described by psycholinguists intersect with the written languages used by writers to suggest, not only a child language, but also the way a child sees and organizes an understanding of the world. The book's subtitle, putting the term 'child language' into the plural, points out that not one, but many written interpretations of the child's perspectives are possible. In order to emphasize this plurality and indicate that there are any number of child languages, the author has organized his study as a series of closely related essays. Each chapter considers the work of a Canadian author or authors, with the book as a whole moving from the more conventional writers to those who step outside the bounds of convention. Ricou proposes analogies with Wordsworth and Dylan Thomas, Proust and Dickens, but he finds his principal subject in the inherent interest of, for example, the Piagetian scheme that W.O. Mitchell seems to adopt in Who Has Seen the Wind; the obsessions with similes in Ernest Buckler; the variations on the Bildungsroman in Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro; and the persistent experiments with presymbolic language in bill bissett. For these and other writers such as Clark Blaise, Emily Carr, Dennis Lee, Dorothy Livesay, P.K. Page, James Reaney, and Miriam Waddington, Ricou illuminates the particular literary languages appropriate to each author's subject. The result is a fascinating and unique approach to Canadian literature.
L.R. Ricou is a professor in the English Department at the University of British Columbia.
His close analysis of the writers' idiosyncrasies is based on a careful and methodical study of the words and sentences, which leads to coherent and and convincing interpretations of the processes of literary creation. This angle of approach, as well as Laurie Ricou's obvious passion for his subject, provide a sufficiently tight link to bind the otherwise clearly discrete chapters. The reader is left with this sense of magic which the author evokes with such power of conviction.
The real strength of Everyday Magic lies in its close stylistic analysis of various features of child languages in specific texts ... It is to the criticism of children's literature that Ricou's study makes the greatest potential contribution, for his rigorous stylistic analyses of The Book of Small and Alligator Pie do more to open up the complexity and innovation of the best writing for children than any other study to date.
An interesting book which will be important to a variety of readers. Students and scholars of the child figure in literature will certainly need to read it. Researchers who study style and uses of language in literature will also want to examine the book. Those knowledgeable about Canadian literature will want to read it for its insights into Canadian fiction, poetry, and drama. People who know nothing about Canadian literature, particularly teachers of American literature who have had no contact with writing from across the northern border, should consider reading this volume to discover what subjects and forms have engaged authors in other parts of our continent.