________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 8 . . . . December 9, 2005


Canadian Explorers. (Scholastic Canada Biographies).

Maxine Trottier. Illustrated by Tony Meers.
Markham, ON: Scholastic Canada, 1994/2005.
45 pp., pbk., $5.99.
ISBN 0-439-96170-X.

Subject Headings:
Explorers-Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Canada-Discovery and exploration-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Harriet Zaidman.

*** /4


With the guidance of Domagaya and Taignoagny, the ships sailed into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and up the St. Lawrence River. The young Iroquois, who now spoke some French, had told Cartier many things about their home, referring to it as kanata, which means “the village.” Cartier, misunderstanding what they had said, began to call the entire area Canada, a name that by 1547 was being used on maps.

Maxine Trottier has tackled the thorny subject of the first European explorers who came to Canada. As books from previous generations are being wiped off library shelves, many because of their racist and condescending attitudes towards First Nations peoples, the question arises, how do we teach children about what happened? Curricula are being rewritten to address the issue of racial attitudes in view of the times, then and now. Hopefully, children will absorb these lessons and be better people for it.

     In this slim volume, part of the “Scholastic Canada Biographies” series, Trottier recounts the histories of Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, Pierre de la Verendrye, Samuel Hearne and David Thompson. She deals with the difficult political issues in passing but does not deal with them in depth:

…Mild-mannered and dedicated, [La Verendrye] built eight trading posts, including one called Fort La Reine. La Verendrye was not only sending back furs, he was also sending Native slaves to New France. It was a difficult existence, sometimes touched by tragedy. His nephew became ill and died. In the spring of 1736, Jean-Baptiste and a party of men were ambushed and killed by Sioux warriors while they were on their way to Michilimackinac for supplies.

     That one paragraph includes information about several events of history and issues, but there is no further elaboration about them. If children are being informed that the French took slaves, should there not be even some brief mention of the colonizers’ attitudes?

     There are other examples where Trottier does not explain issues about which today society has a different outlook. When he was in his 30s, Samuel de Champlain married a 12-year old girl who was allowed to stay with her parents until she was 14. The phrase “as was the custom” might soften the shock a modern 12-year-old in Grade 6 or 7 might experience upon reading this.

     The book describes what are considered the explorers’ major historical accomplishments, from mapping to making alliances with various tribes for the purposes of trade, to creating settlements. Colour illustrations by Tony Meers and reproductions of original maps are found throughout. A map before the Table of Contents shows their travels across the country. One problem for people with difficulties discerning colours is that the purple and pink are fairly similar. Brighter, more contrasting colours would make the map easier to read. There is no index, but each chapter is only eight pages in length, with large type.

     Teachers can use Canadian Explorers as part of teaching units about the early history of Canada. As always, it is up to them to provide enlightenment about the important social and political issues that history presents.


Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.


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

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