CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 5 . . . . November 3, 2000
... between 1880 and 1885, about 17,000 Chinese laborers helped to build the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.). Once again, they were given the most difficult work and were paid less than the other laborers. The Fraser Canyon was the most dangerous section of the Canadian Pacific Railway. To plant explosives in the sheer cliff faces, workers were lowered in small wicker baskets to chisel away ledges hundreds of feet above the ground. Today, Chinese Canadians have a saying that for every foot of railroad through the Fraser Canyon, a Chinese laborer died. (The Chinese, p. 17)Crabtree Publishing has compiled a record of six different ethnic groups that built North America since the arrival of Europeans. The books provide a thorough history of each group, including what conditions drove them to come to Canada and the United States, how they were treated and what work they did when they arrived, and how their group fared as the years passed.
Typical of Crabtree books, this series is also organized in a standard fashion that is engaging and easy to use. The Table of Contents has subtitles that delineate the subject material (A Time of Troubles, The Rise of Anti-Chinese Feelings, The Tide Turns). Each chapter includes a variety of annotated old and current photographs, maps and drawings. Important words are highlighted in the text and defined in a glossary at the end of the book. An index wraps up the package. The text is appropriate for upper elementary students and is full of useful, important historical information told in a contemporary style. Issues such as racism towards blacks and Chinese immigrants, anti-Semitism, slavery and sweatshops are all addressed.
These books will be a positive resource in a classroom or a library. They explain an important part of North American history that is not necessarily known by children today. As time passes and each group integrates further into the North American milieu, information that seems incidental in families or ethnic groups can be dismissed or forgotten. But children need to know their own history as well as to learn from the mistakes of previous generations. The information provided comes from a variety of sources and includes personal accounts. At the same time, some of the information is selectively told. For example, The French informs the reader that separatists are people who "want Quebec to form an independent country." (p.27). But the book does not explain that there have been two referenda on Quebec independence and that a major political party exists whose purpose is to separate Quebec from Canada. This is one glaring omission; one wonders if there were others.
Despite this shortcoming, the books included in this review are informative and well-written. The other books in this series are The Hispanics and The Italians.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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