________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 16 . . . .April 14, 2006


Jean Chrétien: The Scrapper Who Climbed His Way to the Top. (Canadian Prime Ministers Warts & All, #20).

Nate Hendley. Illustrated by Gabriel Morrissette.
Toronto, ON: Jackfruit Press, 2005.
54 pp., pbk., $19.95.
ISBN 0-9736406-6-9.

Subject Headings:
Chrétien, Jean, 1934- . -Juvenile literature.
Canada-Politics and government-1993- .-Juvenile literature.
Prime ministers-Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Val Ken Lem.

*** /4



Once he was at Indian Affairs, Jean discovered that First Nations peoples had many legitimate grievances against the Canadian government. He thought it was unfair that aboriginals were confined to poverty-stricken reserves and generally kept out of Canadian society. He wanted to abolish the reserves, but First Nations people (and some others) were afraid that this would be the end of their unique culture. Jean was forced to shelve this plan. He had more luck with the northern development part of his job. He established 10 new national parks, an achievement he was extremely proud of.


Jean Chrétien is one of the 22-planned volumes in the series, “Canadian Prime Ministers, Warts & All.” The format conforms to that of a previous biography, Sir John A. Macdonald: The Rascal Who Built Canada, by Jacqueline A. Brown and illustrated by Suzanne Mogensen, with the exception that this book does not include any photographs.

     Hendley manages to distill 70 years of Chrétien’s life, including a political career spanning 40 years into eight brief, yet informative, chapters. The writing style and inclusion of anecdotes will appeal to the intended audience. The use of the scrapper as a recurring theme coincides with the earthy image that Chrétien, himself, cultivated while also reflecting his determination to overcome his physical and learning disabilities. Chrétien is portrayed as a hard worker, loving father, devoted husband, and staunch opponent of the Quebec separatist movement.

     Chrétien's mixed legacy, tainted perhaps most dramatically by the sponsorship scandal and his arrogant performance before the Gomery Commission, is beautifully captured in a two-page illustration near the end of the book. Morrissette contributes an additional 15 full-pages of colour illustrations that render the story in simple, comic book style.

     The mainly chronological flow of the work is lost by placing, almost as an afterthought, a captioned illustration of Chrétien's Team Canada trade mission initiative of 1994 on page 43, at the end of his career, instead of on page 24 where it belongs with the explanation of his first mandate as prime minister. The trade missions that occupied much of his energy are strangely absent from the blue sidebar timelines and from the four-page timeline at the end that highlights events from his life as well as those in Canada and the world. Unfortunately, the illustrations used to enliven the timeline do not always correspond to the period in which they are situated.

     One inexcusable error jumps out from both a sidebar, and the final timeline: the North American Free Trade Agreement that came into effect in 1994 is misidentified as the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement.

     Additional sidebar material is presented in cartoon captions by a beaver character. Some of this text adds no value to the work, but other times it contains very important information that perhaps belongs in the main text. A good example is the description of the PQ victory in Quebec in 1976 that led up to the Quebec referendum of 1980.

     The book includes a well-written glossary and an index. The list of resources for further reading is very brief and includes only one web resource—the publisher's own website. At time of viewing, this website includes a potentially great resource for kids as it expands on the biographee's friends, foes, family, and facts, but it needs to be expanded beyond just Macdonald to include information about other prime ministers featured in this series. I would have liked to see a link to the Library and Archives Canada's website, First Among Equals: The Prime Minister in Canadian Life and Politics http://www.collectionscanada.ca/primeministers/index-e.html.


In Toronto, ON, Val Ken Lem works at Ryerson University as a catalogue librarian and subject liaison for history, English, and Caribbean studies.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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