Friday, September 16, 2011

Children's book too hot for U.S. publishers warmly received in Canada

Daniel Loxton, an illustrator and author, has a deadline reminder in his home office. Chad Hipolito photograph for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 14, 2011


Daniel Loxton, an illustrator and writer, created a children’s book so outrageous, so outlandish, so controversial no American publisher dared touch it.

It does not depict nudity. It does not contain curse words. It does not include blasphemy. The love scenes, such as they are, involve males with females.

It does include a straightforward explanation for the complexity of the natural world through a simple scientific theory.

“So many of the publishing professionals I was talking to were leery,” he said.

“When push came to shove they declined to publish the book. Several did indicate to me it was too hot a topic.”

The book wound up being published by Canadian-owned Kids Can Press, which also expected objections from creationists.

So far, the book, Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be, an illustrated primer written for readers in Grades 3 to 7, has generated more prize nominations than controversy.

Evolution is one of three young-reader finalists in the Lane Anderson Award for Canadian science books. The other finalists for the $10,000 prize, to be awarded Wednesday, are Ultimate Trains by Peter McMahon of Ontario and The Sea Wolves by the British Columbia team of Ian McAllister, a photographer, and Nicholas Read, a writer.

Mr. Loxton’s book is also a finalist in the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian children’s non-fiction. Earlier this year, Evolution was a finalist for the prestigious Silver Birch award.

His latest book, just published, is Ankylosaur Attack about a young, plant-eating, heavy-plated dinosaur.

Mr. Loxton, 36, is editor of Junior Skeptic, a youth supplement included in each issue of Skeptic, a California-based magazine that “examines extraordinary claims.”

He lived an itinerant life in an Airstream trailer as a boy. His parents were contractors who hired planters at clear cuts throughout British Columbia. As for his upbringing, he describes it as being a mix of Utopian and feral.

His parents believed in much paranormal phenomenon. As a boy, he was convinced he had stumbled across a Sasquatch footprint deep in the woods.

He discovered skeptical inquiry as a university student, finding science had explanations for such folkloric beliefs as UFOs and ESP, alien abductions and succubus attacks, human combustion and the predictions of Nostradamus.

Now he has a career solving paranormal mysteries. As Harry Houdini once did. Or Scooby-doo.

Even when displaying a sense of humour, hokum-busting skeptics convey a certain killjoy quality. After all, who does not want to believe in a hairy, harmless, beer-guzzling Bigfoot?

“I want to teach people stuff,” he said. “I don’t want to cram anything down anybody’s throat.”

So, how does a “professional skeptic” handle the topic of the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus with his five-year-old son?

(Spoiler alert: The truth behind fictitious childhood characters revealed below.)

So far, the lad has not asked about a chocolate-sharing rabbit, or a wand-waving dentine thief. As for the gift-toting jolly man whose belly shakes like a bowlful of jelly, the parents are taking a soft position.

“We’re not debunking it,” he said. “I’m a sentimental kind of a guy.”

Which is to say the Loxton household is experiencing the three stages of Santa theorem: You believe in Santa. You don’t believe in Santa. You are Santa.

An illustration from Ankylosaur Attack by Daniel Loxton and Jim W.W. Smith.

Anarchist archive

The University of Victoria library has received seven boxes of papers from Ann Hansen, who was sentenced to a life term for conspiring to rob an armoured car and for a series of bombings in Ontario and British Columbia in the early 1980s. The material, which includes pamphlets and prison correspondence, will be included in the Anarchist Archive founded by art historian Allan Antliff, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Modern Art.

Mr. Antliff approached Ms. Hansen for the donation, for which she will receive no payment. Much of the material will be posted online alongside other anti-authoritarian materials in what is the only archive of its kind in Canada.

The most interesting contribution is a transcript of conversations recorded from a police bug police placed in her bedroom before her arrest. Alas, a 70-year privacy restriction has been placed on the transcript, which will not be accessible to the public until 2081.

Ms. Hansen, 58, spent seven years in jail. She got permission from her parole officer to travel to the campus last week from her home on a farm west of Kingston, Ont., where she remains active in the prison abolition movement.

Official loudmouth

George Bowering, who was Canada’s first parliamentary poet laureate, is a baseball aficionado. He has been issued business cards by the Vancouver Canadians baseball club on which he is identified as the Official Loudmouth Fan. (Anyone who has heard his Foghorn Leghorn declamations from his perch behind home plate would not need a card to confirm his role.) Mr. Bowering’s team won the league championship on the weekend, sending dozens of rooters into paroxysms of non-riotous celebration.

The prolific author took a break from his own merrymaking to write a letter decrying the award of an Order of B.C. to former premier Gordon Campbell. Mr. Bowering was himself invested in the order seven years ago.

Perhaps honours for professional politicians should mirror those of professional athletes, who typically must wait five years before induction into a sports hall of fame. The passage of time allows for a more sober-minded accounting long after passions have cooled.

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