CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 27. . . .March 15, 2013
The Weigl catalog states, “The ‘Life in Early Canada’ series compares the lifestyles of people who lived on the land in the 1800s. Where did people live? How did they get their work done? Each book in the series focuses on one aspect of life and how different communities of people worked and played on the Canadian frontier.”
Sadly, the two books that I reviewed from the “Life in Early Canada” series fail to live up to the potential of this description. Because both Food, and Tools have the same strengths and weaknesses, I am reviewing both books together.
Books aimed at very young students must rely on illustrative pictures and simple text to communicate their clear message. This is not a simple task. Quite the contrary, it is a highly complex task. Unfortunately, neither of the two books reviewed from the “Life in Early Canada” series accomplishes this.
Both Food and Tools do contain some very clear photographs, several of which appear to be archival photos of First Nations people and early white European settlers. However, some of the photos confuse the information being conveyed. For example, in Tools, a drawing portrays a heavily tattooed First Nations man, accompanied by the text, “The Cree lived in the northern woodlands of Canada.” The text on the opposite page says, “They used snowshoes to walk on the snow.” The beautiful photograph does show two snowshoes, but they seem to be propped in the snow with some very high mountains in the background – not a typical northern woodland.
What is the most grievous error to me, however, is the distorted picture created by the omission of any mention of settlers of Asian origin and the lack of any representations of black settlers. These omissions are impossible to ignore because the books are organized by different communities of people.
Each book has a “Table of Contents” at the front of the book organized by ethnic group, not by categories relating to the book’s topic. As an adult, I would expect the topics in a book about food to be food-related. The topics in Food are: Introduction, Inuit, Tsuu T’ina, Mi’kmaq, Assiniboine, English, Scottish, Dutch, Greek, Life in Early Canada Facts, and Activity. Likewise, I would expect the topics in a book about tools to be tool-related. The topics in Tools are: Introduction, Sioux, Cree, Maliseet, French, Scottish, Irish, Ukrainian, Polish, Life in Early Canada Facts, and Activity. There is no index to help find a particular tool or food. Maybe I need to think more outside the box, but I don’t find the books’ organization helpful.
Near the back of each book, there is a double page spread titled “Life in Early Canada Facts”. The purpose of these pages is “to be used by adults as a learning support to help young readers round out their knowledge of each group of people featured in Life in Early Canada.” This additional information is brief and sometimes helpful to clarify some of the pictures and text within the book.
Even this feature is not as successful as it could be however. In Food, the additional “Facts” information for pages 14-15 says “The English are from Europe. Many English people came to Canada to own farmland. English settlements were established by the Hudson’s Bay Company to gather fur. One such settlement was built at what is now known as Jasper National Park. Mountain goats were plentiful in the area. These animals are excellent mountain climbers. The English hunted mountain goats for food.” This is supposed to be a book about food so I understand the reference to hunting mountain goats for food, but what does that have to do with owning farmland. Again, because the book is organized by ethnic communities, there is no mention of the role of the French in this book, and, therefore, no mention of their role in the fur trade in “Life in Early Canada”. Some would view this as a serious omission.
Although I am not aware of a curriculum need for primary level books about how different groups found food or which tools they used in early Canada, this wouldn’t stop me from recommending these books, if they were good books. In this case, however, I cannot find enough redeeming features to recommend either Food or Tools.
Suzanne Pierson is a retired teacher-librarian, currently instructing Librarianship courses at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON.
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