CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2000
32 pp, pbk. & cl., $8.96 (pbk.), $18.36 (cl.).
Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.
The Canadian wagon trains were different from the American ones. The trails in Canada were shorter and followed easier terrain. Traveling by wagon took weeks instead of months. Not many Canadian settlers went west by wagon train, however. Most people travelled west by railway late in the 1800s, when the railroad connecting the east to the west was completed.In typical Bobbie Kalman fashion, this series of books describes the opening and settlement of the old west from the 1820s to the late 1800s. The series is comprised of 11 titles, each of which has between 11 and 15 chapters. To distinguish one book from the other, the covers are different colours, but similar in format - the front cover, with its embossed border, displays a painting which matches the title; on the back cover is a list of titles in the series. All books include a table of contents, a glossary and an index as well as abundant colour and black-and-white photographs, diagrams and paintings depicting the lives and times of the many people who were responsible for the settlement of the west and its ultimate prosperity. Some of the photographs are taken from old picture albums, an approach which lends authenticity to the illustrations. Each page is surrounded by a decorative border, unifying the books. The text uses fairly simple language and is easy for readers to understand. (However, the book on the life of a miner is the most difficult of the set due to its detailed explanations of the workings of a mine and an ore refinery.) Topics covered are ones with which most people are somewhat familiar. Though most of the material is American-based, there are several references to the settlement of the Canadian west, the Hudson's Bay Company and the Klondike Gold Rush.
The first book, Life on the Trail, describes the cattle drives, specifically the Chisholm and Oregon Trails, which began in the 1820s. From the preparation involved in driving the cattle to market to the selling of the cattle at the trail's end, this title emphasizes the important role played by cowboys.
Life on the Ranch explains the land use and the various buildings on a ranch as well as the daily work of a cowboy. Bucking broncos, roundups and branding are just a few of the highlights. Homes of the West, the third title in the series, was not sent for review.)
The fourth title, The Wagon Train, shows travel in covered wagons and the many hardships encountered by the people who used this mode of transportation - rainstorms, blizzards, floods, disease. In this title, Native Americans are mentioned, as the opening of the west had a dramatic impact on their lives.
Fashion designers could not hold a candle to the men and women of the old west. Bandannas, Chaps and Ten Gallon Hats describes the many practical, ingenious fashions, designed to protect their wearers from dust, prickly cacti, cold, heat and rain. Levi's jeans were invented during the days of the cowboys and have become a staple in everyone's wardrobe ever since. Boots, spurs, gloves, saddles, women's dress and Native Americans' clothing are all featured in this book. The introduction of the mail-order catalogue occurred at this time. Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, two Wild West "fashion plates," are mentioned in the final section of the book.
Who Settled the West? discusses the first people in the area as well as the first European settlers, the influence of the Hudson's Bay Company, African-American settlers and the many religious groups who came to the west to escape persecution. By wagon, rail and ship they came, battling hardship, disease and unfamiliar territory, to set up homesteads in the land of opportunity.
The Railroad focuses on the steam engine's impact on immigration and the challenges faced by the hardworking men who built the tracks. Kalman touches on the topic of prejudice and the way in which workers of some cultures were mistreated. Problems of train travel and their solutions are discussed - whistles, flags, flares, cowcatchers, torpedoes and kerosene lamps signalled or prevented dangerous situations along the rails. With such progress in the area of transporation, pioneers in rail travel overlooked the effect that it would have on Native Americans and the buffalo herds on which the natives depended.
The eighth book, The Life of a Miner, describes the California Gold Rush which began in 1848. Topics in this title include staking a claim, panning for gold, tools of the mining trade and the various jobs in a mine. The workings of a stamp mill (where ore was refined), the many hazards faced by miners on a daily basis, and the need for labour unions are also explained.
Boomtowns of the West focuses on the business opportunities to be had in the west - fur trapping, ranching, logging and mining - as well as the building of a town and the necessary services that were required by its inhabitants. As prosperity increased, people began to have more leisure time and participated in a variety of activities such as church picnics, baseball and attendance at billiard rooms and saloons. Once again, "progress" had devastating effects on Native Americans as boomtowns took up a lot of the natives' territory. It was at this period in history when the need for law enforcement became apparent, hence the introduction of local sheriffs and the mounted police.
The Gold Rush is very similar to the title on mining, with many of the topics from the former book repeated here. It does, however, include more specific information on the California and the Klondike Gold Rushes.
Women of the West, the final title in the series, is devoted to the hardworking female pioneers who made a life for themselves and their families at a time when necessity was the mother of invention. Topics in the title include the dangers of life on isolated farmsteads, emerging jobs for women, leisure time and women's rights and their fight for equality. The lives of women of different cultures - European, African-American and Native American - are compared as well.
Generally, this series is very interesting, informative and entertaining.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association.
Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice
is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without
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.