CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 29 . . . . April 1, 2011
This series of graphically-illustrated history books teaches children about significant people and events that have helped shaped the Canada we have today. They offer basic information and represent generally accepted viewpoints and are set within drawings that depict the way people lived.
The comic book format has always been popular with children - the iconic "Classic Comics" series introduced important works of literature to children this way. "Comic" books have now been evolved into today's graphic novels, and publishers are again presenting classic stories and historical events in this updated version. It's all part of the educative process for children who become enlightened at a young age and can go on to further reading and develop greater understanding of an issue as they grow.
A few of these illustrated books fulfil that basic objective. However, prospective buyers should be aware of a few issues that could have easily been addressed to improve the quality of The British North America Act, The Famous Five and The October Crisis.
The British North America Act begins during the fight for control of North America during the Seven Years' War. The text does not inform the reader that both the French and English colonizers took Canada by force and trickery from the First Nations. The country of Canada was built on the basis of dispossessing the First Nations. It's not acceptable, in these days of truth for the purposes of reconciliation, not to mention it. As well, page 22 shows George Brown shaking hands with an escaped black slave from the U.S. The former slaves says, "I can't believe we're finally free." While Brown was a great crusader, the truth is that blacks suffered discrimination and persecution when they tried to build lives in Canada.
The cover of The Famous Five misses the opportunity to raise the central accomplishment of these selfless fighters for women's rights. The placards shown on the cover state 'No Alcohol'. While Prohibition was one of the goals at a point in time, the rights of women as persons was the overriding accomplishment of their challenge to the Supreme Court in 1929, and that is what the text is primarily about.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge does not address the question of the reason behind World War I. Young men were slaughtered on that ridge so European colonial powers could divide up control of Africa and Asia - no matter the cost to human suffering at home or on those continents. It's a large topic, but one a child can handle, as Russell Freedman's The War to End All Wars (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) proves. The controversies surrounding an issue should not be dodged, however well the strategic plan for that particular battle worked.
The illustrations in these books show how people lived in the different eras. Canadians can't easily identify some of the people who shaped our history, so it's good to see their faces in a format that children will study carefully.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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