CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 24 . . . . February 24, 2012
The historical feat of building a 5000 kilometre long train track to connect Canada is told in graphic novel format. This book is part of the “Defining Moments in Canadian History” series, which includes several other titles about important Canadian events. Presenting Canadian history in a graphic format certainly makes it more engaging for students who generally embrace anything in “comic book” format.
The important “characters” (politicians, businessmen and contractors) are introduced at the beginning of the book. Sir John A. Macdonald, Alexander Mackenzie and William Van Horne were among the men involved in this project. Historical information is presented briefly in a narrator’s box at the top of each panel. The author then imagines what the characters would say or think in each situation. The book also contains an index, a glossary and sources of further information.
The completion of the railroad was not without conflict: changes in power, physical obstacles, threat of separation from British Columbia and fears of American invasion. The challenge that is shown most effectively is the difficulty the workers had laying track through the Canadian terrain. These pages contain the most action in the book. Unfortunately, many of the other illustrations show the characters in stiff poses, with little facial expression or movement. In some cases, the narration and the dialogue are wordy and stiff.
Nevertheless, the graphic format presents an interesting option for teaching Canadian history. The characters have been brought to life by giving them a face and a voice. The illustrations also allow readers to learn more about the time period and the places involved. This series is an effective way of breathing life into a subject that is not always perceived to be interesting.
Claire Perrin is a teacher-librarian with the Toronto District School Board.
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