Friday, January 11, 2008

Book Report/The Secret World of Og

The Secret World of Og
By Pierre Berton
Illustrated by Patsy Berton (Illustrations copyright 1974)
Published 1961
Children's picture book

My fourth selection for The Canadian Book Challenge Eh? is The Secret World of Og by Pierre Berton. The book was recommended to me years ago by an internet friend from Nova Scotia. She had read it as a child, and simply adored it. This is a particularly sweet edition because the drawings are done by Patsy Berton, the author's daughter.

The book was published in 1961, and has that older times feel to it. The children really "play." They dress up, they pretend, they have adventures in the fields around their home, without their mother knowing exactly where they are at every minute. No computers or cell phones or video games. Television is a part of their lives, and favorite programs are mentioned, yet these shows are a jumping-off place for their games.

The children are beautifully presented. They are real, fully drawn individuals. I found it a great pleasure to be in their company. Berton clearly understands children, even those too young to speak yet.

On the afternoon that It happened, the Pollywog [the baby, Paul] was in jail as usual; and as usual, he was trying to escape. For his entire life, which seemed to him to have been very long but was actually only twelve months, he had been staring out at the world from behind bars.

First, there had been the crib in the hospital, into which they popped him after he was born, and then there was the crib at home. Sometimes they would take him out of the crib, and pop him in the playpen; more bars. The Pollywog would grip the bars, like a convict, and stare out at the world. He would work out elaborate means of escape and sometimes he actually succeeded in escaping. Nobody ever knew how he did it, but the fact was that occasionally he would be discovered outside his playpen or crib or down off the high chair, which was his third prison.

This ability becomes useful when the children have their adventure, just as the special qualities of all the others stand them in good stead. Berton does a great job in presenting each child's strengths, even character traits that might not be considered so. He can see the whole child, and how, for example, falling into the water twice a day is part and parcel of Patsy's personality. Yes, Patsy, the illustrator. All the children have the Berton children's names: Penny, Pamela, Patsy, Peter, Paul.

The adventure begins when they leave the baby alone for just a minute while they go out and come back into the Playhouse, as if attending a fancy tea. He disappears, and Pamela admits that earlier she saw a little green man with a hand saw cutting out a hole in the floor. She hadn't told anyone because no one ever believed her sightings of such creatures. Well, now she is believed, and off they go after the Pollywog. They come upon an underground community of green Ogs, whose toys and money and comic books bear a surprising similarity to those "lost" by the children over the years.

I just felt such delight reading the book, and only wished I had known about it when my kids were little. As in all the best children's books, the children are bolstered, they learn lessons (though not in a heavy-handed way), and they become more self-reliant. Though not seen much, the parents are mentioned enough that the reader knows the children are deeply loved and cared for. The book says for ages 5-9, and that seems just about right; a perfect read-aloud for the young ones, and a fun beginning reader for the older ones.


  1. Pierre Berton was/is one of our national treasures. He loved Canada as much as he loved to write about it. Did you know that he always said that "The Secret World of Og" was his favorite book that he authored? :)

  2. I really want to read more about him and by him. I can imagine he loved it best, since it featured his own dear children!

  3. What a good review. I've never heard of it and may not be able to find
    it at the library here in the South.
    I'll let you know!


  4. NO, not in the library system, but I will write the title down to see if I can find it elsewhere!


  5. Good luck finding it, Bonnie. Does your library offer the Inter Library Loan program? I've gotten books from all over the country, for free. It seems a wonder to me.

  6. I may try that.
    Or see if I can find a cheap
    used copy online somewhere!
    You really did do a good review.
    We were listening to Elizabeth
    von Trapp today, still a bit of
    Christmas in the air ( and very warm

  7. Nan - I lurk occasionally, and I'm so interested in this book as my children were growing up in the Eastern Townships during the early 60's. I think I'll have to try to find it in our library book sale or on the Internet.

    Les's Mom

  8. I just got this book for my birthday in December. Even though it intrigues me to no end (it's so unrepresentative of his body of work), I realized that I now had three unread Berton books on my shelf. So I've gone back to read the first acquired and put Og on the back burner.

  9. Oh, I miss the play of the early 1960's when I myself was a child. So much is lost, in my opinion, with the invention of all these gaming systems. This sounds like a wonderful book, I'm thinking of my third graders who love when I read aloud to them. Is it hard to obtain a copy? I'll look into it.

  10. This was one of my favourites growing up and as a child I didn't know who had written it. I was SO happy to stumble over it at a bookstore and discover that it was our own Pierre Berton who had authored it. It's neat to hear from Nancy Bond that it was his favourite book.

  11. Bonnie, Les's Mom, and Bellezza, thank you all for stopping by, and I hope you can find a copy, especially with Patsy's illustrations. It would be interesting Bellezza, if you do read it to your third graders, to get their impressions. Do they play games like those kids do? What do they do in the summertime? What is staying with me since I finished is the very distinct personalities of the children. It isn't often that a children's book does this so well. Probably it is because they were based on his own children, but also I think it shows what a very good writer he is. John, I must look into other work by him.

  12. I've always been meaning to read something by Pierre Berton. This sounds like it would be a good place to start out. Thanks for the great review!

  13. Thanks for coming by, Court. I really loved this book.

  14. I just finished this book, and to be honest, wasn't too keen on it. Though, I agree the children's imaginations were great, I found it to be a very dated book. All the cowboys, guns, and lynching stuff seemed way too old fashioned, if not even inapproriate at times. Plus, I found the sentences too long and distracting and too many references seemed like personal, private things between Berton and his kids that no outsider would fully appreciate.

  15. I wrote to Mr. Berton in 1973 about the book and received this fantastic letter!

  16. katthorsen, thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment here. I've just been over to your blog and left you a note.


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