CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 17 . . . . April 29, 2005
There was a great deal of prejudice against people with disabilities in those days. Some people ridiculed John for adoring Mary and spending so much time with her. He nicknamed her "Baboo" and read to her before dinner each afternoon. He brought her into the House of Commons to hear him speak. And he agonized over how hard she had to work to achieve the usual childhood developments most people can take for granted. Father and daughter were close for the rest of his life, writing each other affectionate letters when they were apart. Contrary to doctors' expectations--and no doubt due to the love and support of her family--Mary lived to age 65.
The first book of a projected 21-volume series about Canadian Prime Ministers, touted to be a "warts and all" story, this inaugural title delivers the goods. Comprised of eight chapters and an extensive time line, the book is an account of Macdonald's entire life, from his birth in 1815 in Glasgow, Scotland, to his death in 1891 in Ottawa. The first chapter, entitled "Colourful, charismatic and controversial," aptly describes Macdonald's life, especially in the political domain. Macdonald is portrayed as an intelligent and feisty lawyer, impressive public speaker and a very determined leader, but he is not without flaws. Several decisions that he made were, perhaps, politically incorrect, or unsound, at best. One such example is the bribery scandal in which he accepted a large sum of money in exchange for granting contracts for the building of the railroad. Another is the introduction of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 which forced Chinese immigrants to pay a head tax in order to enter Canada. There is also mention of his often troubled personal life- the deaths of his first wife and infant son, the birth of a daughter with hydrocephaly, and his much publicized problem with alcoholism. Though his "warts" are not downplayed in the book, the main focus, of course, is Macdonald's political career and the many contributions he made to Canadian Confederation. In addition to the biographical information, several pages, interspersed throughout the book, are devoted to social issues of the times. Some of them have merit, such as the page describing what schools were like in the 1880s. However, an entire page devoted to the topic of alcoholism, providing details about the disease's symptoms and its impact on families, as well as information about Alcoholics Anonymous, is quite unnecessary. Throughout the book are blue sidebars- time lines relating to the years and events covered in the chapter. At the back of the book is a four-page time line with additional information, not only about what was happening in Macdonald's life at the time, but also highlighting the major events in Canada and the world.
Brown's writing style engages the reader and makes even the driest bit of history sound interesting. Her fluent text is easy to comprehend. Words printed in boldface type appear in the glossary (and what a glossary!). It gives definitions and more facts about each of the entries. A table of contents and an index are also included, along with a list of suggested books, websites and places to visit in Canada for further study.
The layout of the book is quite appealing, although the social issue pages are sometimes poorly placed, interrupting the flow of the main text. A cartoon beaver character, dressed in a t-shirt emblazoned with a maple leaf, gives readers extra trivia, but is quite superfluous. Attention to detail is evident in the little red maple leaves on which the page numbers are printed. The illustrations, simply rendered, are based on factual accounts and historical documents. There are also black-and-white and colour photographs. While one full page illustration depicts the assassination of Thomas D'Arcy McGee, surprisingly, this event is not mentioned in the text. The other questionable inclusion is the double-page spread of a map of Canada which shows nine different events that happened in the country during Macdonald's lifetime.
Unbiased and well-written (but with a few "warts"), this title should appeal to young history buffs and definitely has a place in school and public libraries.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.