HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Invisible Playmate: A Story of the Unseen, with Appendices
Author: William Canton
Publisher: University of Michigan Library, republished c. 2009
Related website: http://www.lib.umich.edu (publisher)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Suitable for anyone
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Canton, William. The Invisible Playmate: A Story of the Unseen, with Appendices (published in 1896 by Stone and Kimball, New York City, NY; republished c. 2009 by University of Michigan Library). William Canton (1845–1926) was a British poet, journalist and writer, now best known for his contributions to children’s literature. These include his series of three books, beginning with The Invisible Playmate, written for his daughter Winifred Vida (1891-1901). He was born at Chusan in China to a Catholic family of civil servants. His childhood was spent mostly in Jamaica. He studied for the priesthood at Douai and later in Paris, but eventually abandoned the priesthood as a vocation to become a teacher and writer and later left the Roman Catholic Church to become a Protestant. He worked as a journalist in Glasgow, where he became editor of the Glasgow Weekly Herald and later a leader-writer for the Glasgow Herald. In 1891 he moved to London, where he worked for the religious book and magazine publisher W. Isbister, later being appointed as editor of the Sunday Review and the Sunday Magazine. He also contributed articles and poems to Good Words.
Canton’s early poetry was highly regarded in his lifetime. In addition, he published literature about Winifred, such as The Invisible Playmate: A Story of the Unseen, with Appendices (1894), which purports to be a series of letters which he had received from a man whose first daughter had died and who was raising his second daughter to think of her dead older sister as an “invisible playmate.” The second daughter apparently ends up dying as well. The appendices are three other items, “Rhymes About a Little Woman,” “An Unknown Child-Poem,” and “At a Wayside Station,” all of which are specifically mentioned in the story of The Invisible Playmate. Two other books in the series are W. V. Her Book (1896) and W. V’s Golden Legend (1898). In 1901 Canton’s own daughter died suddenly at the age of ten. He resigned from Isbister, though he did publish recollections of his daughter, In Memory of W. V. (1901).
Canton then took up the offer to write the official history of the Bible Society, which he hoped would comfort him. The nine volume history took five years to complete. After finishing it in 1910, he devoted himself to children’s literature and historical works, including The Bible and the Anglo-Saxon People (1914) and The Bible Story (1915). Canton’s later work was more religious in emphasis, but his output almost ceased after the death of his daughter. In 1913 Canton began a new religious poem The Mask of Veronica, but it was unfinished at his death. I do not now recall offhand who recommended The Invisible Playmate to me or where the recommendation came from. It is an odd book, but one thing that I will say for it is that there is a pervasive, underlying belief in the unseen world and life after death. Several other editions have been published, such as those by Kessinger Publishing (2007), Ulan Press (2012), Leopold Classic Library (2015), and Sagwan Press (2015), some of which combine The Invisible Playmate with W. V. Her Book and In Memory Of W. V.