________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 16 . . . . April 4, 2008

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Spotlight on Canada. (Spotlight on my Country).

Bobbie Kalman.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2008.
32 pp., pbk. & hc., $10.95 (pbk.), $20.76 (rlb.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-3476-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-3450-5 (rlb.).

Subject Heading:
Canada-Juvenile literature.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Harriet Zaidman.

**½ /4

   
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Spotlight on Mexico. (Spotlight on my Country).

Bobbie Kalman & Niki Walker.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2008.
32 pp., pbk. & hc., $10.95 (pbk.), $20.76 (rlb.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-3477-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-3451-2 (rlb.).

Subject Heading:
Mexico-Juvenile literature.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Harriet Zaidman.

**½ /4

   
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Spotlight on the United States of America. (Spotlight on my Country).

Bobbie Kalman & Niki Walker.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2008.
32 pp., pbk. & hc., $10.95 (pbk.), $20.76 (rlb.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-3478-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-3452-9 (rlb.).

Subject Heading:
United States-Juvenile literature.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Harriet Zaidman.

**½ /4

This series of books, brightly illustrated with photographs and drawings, attempts to provide an overview of the history, geography and people of  the three countries that make up North America. They contain a basic overview of information about each of the topics outlined in the Table of Contents, information sufficient to satisfy younger readers in the target age group. However, there are many inconsistencies in the quality of information and in the depth of explanations that contribute to making these books less suitable for older readers and especially for those students who are using them for research. The books all follow the familiar format for which Crabtree is known - 32 pages with fifteen 2-page chapters, ending with a one-page glossary and index. Each chapter has one or two brief paragraphs of information. The rest of the space is taken up with a variety of illustrations that are captioned. While books for very young children cannot be overburdened with facts and complicated analysis, they can be 'newsy' and interesting to look at. These books have spotty collections of facts and have many illustrations that repeat what has been said in others. Many captions are vague and, therefore, meaningless. This is slipshod and unnecessary and does a disservice to the teachers and librarians who need quality materials for their teaching programs, and to those young readers who would be able to learn so much more if more solid information were included. The sad thing is that, in this age of instant information, it's easy to check government or other reliable websites for information. Here are only a few examples from each book:

Spotlight on Canada:

"The first people from Europe to settle, or live, in Canada came from Iceland or Greenland. They settled in Newfoundland for a short time. In later years, people from France and England came to Canada. They came to trade for beaver pelts, or furs, with the native people." (p. 16)

     Neither here nor on any other page does Kalman give any indication of when any of the above events occurred. In the next chapter, she mentions that Canada became a country under British rule in 1867. What happened to France? Why not mention that a war was fought for control of the colony and that Britain won? It takes a mere sentence. Page 21 has two photographs of youth of different races and one with a child whose face has a maple leaf painted on it. The caption reads: "These pictures show young Canadians from different backgrounds having fun together." The text says that people speak other languages but does not list any of the countries from which Canada has drawn immigrants in the past or from where people are currently coming. It then states: "Canadians are proud of their country and cultures." This is meaningless without any content.

     Spotlight on Mexico:

     The chapter entitled "Mexico's people" states that young people must work to help their families. The picture above this caption shows indigenous people selling scarves. On another page, a Mayan woman is seen with a pile of handkerchiefs she is selling. Kalman should tell the reader that the poverty experienced by the native peoples is a result of the Spanish conquest, and that they are still the lowest layer of society. She includes a picture of a baby and the pointless caption "This Mexican baby will soon speak Spanish." Another caption, which seems as if it is taken from a tourism brochure, says: "The best part of Mexico is the friendly people that live there." Is there a country where people aren't friendly? Monarch butterflies winter in Mexico. A lovely picture shows them collected in a forest. However, these forests are being ravaged by logging, and the monarchs are under serious threat because of human activity. This information is widely known but not included in Kalman's book.

     Spotlight on The United States of America:

     A caption under the picture of a rich-looking historical figure on page 17 reads: "Some colonists were very wealthy." Were there poor colonists? This 'fact' is made with no reference to anything else. The text says that people had to pay taxes to the King of England. Didn't England establish the colony and wouldn't that be expected? Were the taxes unfair? The reader is left to infer meaning by him/herself. If the reader is a 10-year-old, he or she might infer that everyone in the colony was rich but have no understanding of the issues. The chapter on Native Americans is one paragraph long. While acknowledging that there were once hundreds of nations that lived in North America when Europeans arrived, the text makes no mention of what happened to them. Did they blend in? Did they move elsewhere? Were they forcibly moved off the land because of the Monroe Doctrine which presumed ownership of all the land that the American eye could see? Why was there not a mention of The Trail of Tears or the Massacre at Wounded Knee? A smaller picture and even one more informative paragraph would be useful.

     The depth of explanation runs from the simplistic to the unexplained. The glossaries are a hodgepodge of bolded words. "Parliamentary system" is defined as "a type of government that has some elected members, as well as a leader who chooses some members." Chooses which members? Why? "Vote' is defined: "To choose one person from a list of people." A vote is an indication of a choice, for a person, party, a point of view or a certain decision. Any child will be able to explain that. Some words are bolded but explained in the text instead of in the glossary. Then why bold them?

     These books can be used in a general way to support a teaching unit on Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, but they are not essential purchases for a classroom or school library.

Recommended with reservations.

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

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

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.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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