CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 21. . . .June 13, 2008
Canada in Colours.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2008.
24 pp., hardcover, $14.95.
Preschool / Ages 2-4.
Review by Bruce Dyck.
Brown log cabins
nestle in the mountains.
Using a total of eleven colours, Canada in Colours is a colour based journey around Canada. The first illustration is of a winter scene, complete with polar bears building snow bears, lots of snow, and an igloo. For the rest of the book, a brown bear and a beaver replace the two polar bears. These two are joined by a moose and a racoon in some of the illustrations. The next illustration is of the bear and the beaver camping in the woods. For the next three locations, which are the only ones to be identified by name, are, in order: Prince Edward Island, the St. Lawrence River, and Point Pelee National Park. The book then moves onto blackberry picking, Prairie wheat fields, hiking in the mountains, log cabins in the woods, stars in the night sky and, in conclusion, a reappearance of the polar bears watching the Northern Lights.
The illustrations in Canada in Colours are its strong point, and, with the exception of the map found at the beginning and end of the book, excellent. They are colourful and visually stimulating, having an almost stained-glass quality about them. The illustration of the Monarch butterflies in Point Pelee National Park is worthy of individual note, and it begs to be made into a publicity poster for the park.
As a colour based picture book for children, Canada in Colours does ok, although there are a number of other books out there that are at least as good, if not better.
Having said that however, there are, for me at least, a number of significant problems with Canada in Colours, beginning with the map found just inside the front and rear covers. What I assume was intended to be a simple, child friendly, reference map of Canada, is, at best, a severely distorted representation of Canada. While it would be possible to overlook most of the distorted geography and provincial borders, it is impossible to overlook the fact that Newfoundland is so distorted that it can be only identified by its location on the map. The culprit, most likely, is the electronic stretching of the digital illustration to fit the space; however, this is something that should have been corrected, and, as it is, the map is unacceptable.
Putting this map aside, my biggest issue with Canada in Colours is with its presentation of Canada. It seems to be nothing more then a stereotypical hodgepodge of Canadian imagery. It is disappointing that the first image of the book proper is nothing more then the typical American stereotype of Canada. I remember hearing Americans being mocked for visualizing Canada as the Frozen North, and voicing the assumption that polar bears roam at will outside the tightly closed doors of our igloos. It is also distressing that the three locations identified by name are all found east of Windsor, Ontario, and that the Prairies are once again summed up by wheat fields. The rest of the book continues on with this stilted stereotypical view of Canada with generic outdoor locals, covering the mountains and the north.
I realize that this may seem harsh criticism to some, but the reality is, the images we form of our world come to us at a very early age, the age group which has been targeted by this book. It is these images we use in forming the basis for our understanding of our country. I may be guilty of harbouring a double standard here as my assessment of Canada in Colours would be very different if the stated target audience of the book was a tourist visiting Canada from abroad. As a book bought in an airport book store as a gift from Canada by Grandma and Grandpa for the grandchildren back home, Canada in Colours is very good. However, as Canada in Colours came with a curriculum link of Social Studies in its press release, it just doesn't measure up.
For me, the reality is that Canada in Colours could have been a much better book if Per-Henrik Gürth had built upon the image he used for Prince Edward Island and moved forward with the concept of identifying and portraying a specific, and possibly less known, feature for each of the provinces and territories. It is a shame that Canada in Colours settled for stereotypes and generalities.
Recommended with reservations.
Bruce Dyck is currently employed by his wife and two sons as a stay-at-home dad in Winnipeg, MB.
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