CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 3 . . . . October 1, 1999
My father was a secret agent in the Second World War. However, I grew up thinking that he had been a member of the Canadian Army Dental Corps.This vignette from Marsha Boulton's "Acknowledgment" is a fine way to begin a collection of glimpses of Canadians of note, and it was with great interest that I started to read. Part One, "Originals and Upstarts," begins with David Douglas, the Scottish botanist after whom the Douglas fir is named, and it includes an interesting piece on the horse-racing duel between the American Man o' War and Sir Barton, the Canadian triple crown winner. Part Two, "Innovation and Invention," deals with, among others, pioneering heart specialist Maude Abbott and Dr. Mahlone Locke whose foot-manipulating magic put Morrisburg, Ontario, on the map during the 1930s, as well as an essay on the mystery of the Avro Arrow. "Creativity and Activity," the third section, touches on Ned Hanlon, the rower, after whom Hanlon's Point on Toronto Island is named as well as six other people and a collective group which made it big in Hollywood. In Part Four, "Heroes, Heroines and the Odd Scoundrel," we read about Ma Murray, outspoken editor of various newspapers in rural British Columbia, as well as airman George Beurling and swimmer Marilyn Bell.
As the above, fragmentary listing indicates, the stories range widely in times and subjects and therein lies both the strength and weakness of the format. Inevitably, not all stories are of equal interest to the reader or, one suspects, to the author! A number of the essays present their subjects in such a one-dimensional, prosaic manner that it is hard to imagine their catching anyone's interest, and some are just plain sloppily written. In "No Prison In the Woods", for example, the story of Mary Ann Shadd, the nineteenth-century black educationalist and newpaper editor, it says that "[a]t forty-six, she became the first woman law student at John Howard University, but she was not granted her degree until 1883 due to sexual discrimination." This wording implies a long delay between the completion of the course and the granting of the degree, but, since no birth year is ever given, one cannot actually know how long. Only in Part Four, with the account of the Great Stork Derby and Marilyn Bell's swim across Lake Ontario did I get the feeling that the author really cared about her subjects and, therefore, she made me care as well.
It is somewhat difficult to imagine an audience for these snippets of history. A teacher could use one as a jumping-off point for a history lesson, but, since there is no index, keeping track of appropriate stories would depend on a teacher's own cross-referencing and filing system (though the table of contents is helpfully explicit). Similarly, the book could be read aloud, an incident at a time, by an enthusiastic instructor or parent, but it is not a book I can see a child curling up with and reading straight through. Just a Minute More could be a useful resource book for a school library at any level from Grade 5 up where it could add interest and detail to a biographical essay otherwise dependent on a dry squib from a Canadian encyclopedia, provided, of course, that the librarian or teacher thought to point the students in the book's direction.
Recommended with reservations.
Mary Thomas works in the library of an elementary school in Winnipeg, MB.
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