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Witches, wizards and liminal spaces: 10 brilliant children's books

For International Literacy Day, 5 Concordia experts share their favourites — new and old
September 7, 2016
By J. Latimer


Explore the Swiss Alps with Heidi, or join the Mad Hatter’s tea party — is it any wonder that children’s stories have such a special place in our hearts?

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day on September 8, we asked five members of the Concordia community — Andre Furlani, Danielle Dennie, Darragh Languay, Anne Wade and Susan Cahill — to tell us about two treasures from their trove of children’s books.


Andre Furlani

Chair and professor
Department of English

“Man is defined as a rational animal, but children’s books reveal that animals have their reasons too, and know how to express them. Rudyard Kipling’s Baloo the Bear, Bagheera the Black Panther, the Monkey People, the wolf pack, and the lame tiger Shere Khan in The Jungle Book calculate risks, balance loyalties, dispute motives, and strive to win regard.

“Kim Kurki’s World of Birds: A Beginner’s Guide is just as knowledgeable about animals, elucidating North American birds’ many reasons for singing, scavenging, scuffling and scattering south. Kurki’s pictures combine accuracy with capricious, avian traits.”


Danielle Dennie 

Mathematics librarian
Concordia Library

My husband’s favourite childhood book was The Sorcerer’s Scrapbook, a fictional autobiography of amateur wizard Nicodemus Magnus. Written by Michael Berenstain (son of Stan and Jan of Berenstain Bears’ fame), and filled with tales of mythical creatures, this lesser classic was my husband’s gateway into all things fantasy-related later in life.

“Written by Shirley Glaser and illustrated by Milton Glaser (designer of the I ♥ NY logo), The Alphazeds is a fun way to teach the alphabet to my son. The letters, with their own personalities and typeface, get introduced one by one into a small and chaotic room, when all of a sudden… Ta-dah! The first ‘word’ gets created.” 


Darragh Languay

Department of English

“My mother read me Johanna Spyri’s Heidi from her own childhood copy, and it was the first book that transported me. Then and now I can taste Grandfather’s smoked cheese, Peter’s frothing goat’s milk, Clara’s buns, and I still exult in the adopted girl’s Alpine liberty, brio and spirit. 

“In This Is Sadie by Sara O’Leary (MA 94), irrepressible sylph-like Sadie, pictured whimsically by Julie Morstad, transports her surroundings into stories and transports stories into her surroundings. She joins, for instance, the Mad Hatter’s tea party, just as I would climb to Heidi’s hayloft to stargaze and listen to my mother read.”


Anne Wade

Manager and information specialist
Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance (CSLP)

Lecturer, Department of Education 

Coordinator, Learning Tool Kit+ 
(ABRACADABRA early literacy software)

“When I was 10 years old, I won a copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince — a story that described the protagonist’s bewildering, special world. It was seemingly so different from that of a 10-year-old's, yet I came to understand it more fully as I got older.

Good Night Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, seemed to resonate with me as an infant. It’s a story that appreciated those basic things in life. The day just wasn't over until each of those things — a lamp, a dog, the sun — was wished goodnight.”


Susan Cahill

Associate professor
School of Irish Studies at Concordia

“The book that completely blew my mind as a child was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Walking through a wardrobe into a mysterious land is about the best metaphor you can get for the magic of reading — open the pages of a book and you can travel anywhere. As a child I wasn’t thinking metaphorically though and I still get a frisson of excitement if I see an old wardrobe.

“A more recent love is Irish/French writer Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s young adult novel, The Accident Season, which I have assigned for my “IRST 398A / ENGL 359A - Narrating Irish Childhoods” course this term. It’s a wonderfully witchy novel about the liminal spaces of teenagehood, the secrets we keep, the stories we tell and the haunting pain of growing up. It also features a good dose of unexplained magic, tarot cards and a Halloween party in an abandoned house!”


On Thursday, October 6, Susan Cahill will moderate a conversation between illustrator and Irish children’s laureate PJ Lynch and Aoife Murray, events coordinator of Children’s Books Ireland (CBI). They’ll discuss the importance of literature for children, children’s book illustration and the role of organizations like CBI in engaging young people with literature.

Find out more about studying Early Childhood and Elementary Education (ECEE) at Concordia.


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