Canada: the culture – KALMAN (CSS)

KALMAN, Bobbie. Canada: the culture. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2002. 32p. KALMAN, Bobbie. Canada: the land. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2002. 32p. KALMAN, Bobbie. Canada: the people. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2002. 32p. Resenha de: BRADLEY, Jon G. Canadian Social Studies, v.37, n.2, 2003.

The Land, Peoples and Culture Series consists of a colourful collection of volumes aimed directly at what might be termed the elementary/young adolescent coffee-table/library market. Published by Crabtree, and slightly oversized at 21 cm by 28 cm, the glossy coloured pages and hardbound volumes are visually appealing as well as physically durable.

Twenty-two countries are currently represented in the series and the selection of the specific countries deserves a comment. The two unique continents of Antarctica and Australia are not represented at all. At first glance, this is a surprising omission. However, as the criteria appears to be a three-volume set for each country (a single volume for each interconnected theme of the land, the people, and the culture) one can perhaps understand these omissions. Nonetheless, while Antarctica certainly does not have a culture or human inhabitants within the parameters of the series framework, the omission of Australia does offer a moment’s pause. The selection of representative countries for the remaining five continents is quite diverse and certainly does provide for a wide and varied selection. Africa is represented by Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa; Asia by China, India, Japan, Tibet, The Philippines and Vietnam; Europe is heavily favoured with France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Spain and Russia; North America’s sole representative is Canada; while Argentina, El Salvador, Mexico and Peru showcase South and Central America. In total, then, Crabtree has undertaken a somewhat ambitious project by producing sixty-six high quality books!

Neatly packaged within a common physical arrangement, the books are bright and colourful, and clearly would appeal to both a non-reading and early reading clientele. With some deviations, most pages are evenly split between short snippets of written text and visuals. While the majority of the visuals are coloured photographs of people and/or geographic locations and scenes, there is a smattering of art reproductions as well as the odd black and white rendition. The books appear to follow a set, if somewhat monotonous, pattern of a two page (or even multiples) spread for each topic or item within the theme. Canada: the people, for example, has the following chapter titles: ‘Faces of Canada’, ‘The first people’ (4 pages), ‘History and heritage’ (4 pages), ‘From around the world’, ‘Canadian families’, ‘City life’, ‘Country life’, ‘School’, ‘Haley’s skating lesson’, ‘Canadian cuisine’, ‘Sports and leisure’, and ‘Canada’s future’.

As there is no introduction or letter to parents or other such directional statement, the reader has to sort of guess the target audience envisioned by the publisher. There are no activities to do, no follow-up or research questions, no referenced web sites, and no bibliography of additional readings. The volumes are self-contained and inclusive and, interestingly, do not even direct the reader to the other books within the three volume subset of the same country.

From a readability point of view, the vocabulary seems straightforward with short and direct sentences. There is a small and select glossary at the back of each book along with a brief index. Certain key words are sometimes highlighted within the text and each visual has its own captioned notation.

As my maiden aunt used to muse, I am torn betwixt and between. I really, really like some aspects of the series (glossy paper, strong colour, short narratives) and, at the same time, I quite strongly detest other features (overly simplistic, tendency towards characterization). My personal dilemma is to attempt to take a reasonable professional stance and to offer an informed educational opinion.

While there is much that is positive within the series, there are comments as well as omissions that cause one to pause. In Canada: the people, for example, the description of elementary education (p. 22) is clearly of an Ontario model that is not applicable to the rest of the country and, furthermore, why is such a big fuss made of children wearing a school uniform? Additionally, while the story of Haley and her figure skating lesson (pp. 24-25) has much to recommend it as a blended family story, the picture accompanying the story does not reflect the facts as described. In Canada: the culture, no mention is made of either Pierre Berton or Farley Mowat as children’s authors although Margaret Atwood (pp. 16-19) gets prime billing for The Handmaid’s Tale. I am not at all sure of the relevance of a black and white photograph of Mary Pickford or a coloured picture of a very young Jim Carrey (pp. 20-21) as being of any interest to anyone. Canada: the land refers to Nova Scotia as Scenic, Quebec as Unique, Ontario as Bustling and British Columbia as Beautiful. I am a tad surprised that the other provinces were unworthy of a snappy qualifier. Is Montreal still the second largest French-speaking city in the world? Notwithstanding that choices are always difficult, the ‘Canadian places’ four page spread could have been far more creative and representative than brief descriptions of Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Historic Quebec City, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, and Dawson City along with a full-page view of the Chateau Frontenac overlooking the St. Lawrence River.

On balance and in the interests of reaching a decision (no sitting on the proverbial Canadian fence, eh?), I guess that I should not be too critical and more positively side with the opinion that something in print is better than nothing at all. After all, the books are very, very colourful and do attempt to do what some might well view as impossible in the first place; that is, describe this country historically, culturally, and geographically in less than 100 pages! Notwithstanding my own reservations and even though Kalman may only be able to present a somewhat simplistic view of this broad and complex society, I feel that these books would do well in a community children’s library, the junior section of a school library, and perhaps even be appropriate for children’s anniversary gifts if for no other reason than the wonderful visuals and pictures.

Jon G. Bradley – Faculty of Education. McGill University. Montreal, Quebec.

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