LEWIS, Norah L. Editor. Freedom to Play: We Made Our Own Fun. Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2002. 224p. Resenha de: MANDZUK, David. Canadian Social Studies, v.39, n.2, p., 2005.
Norah Lewis’ book Freedom to Play echoes a sentiment that is heard increasingly often these days among teachers and t
To her credit, Lewis openly discusses some of the challenges in trying to reconstruct the past with a book like hers. She notes that memories can be faulty as they can be colored with time, subsequent experiences, and frequent retelling [and] contributors tend to be selective in which memories they retain (p. 4). However, the end result is still a reasonable reflection of how things were different at a time when life seemed to be simpler but perhaps was simply different than it is nowadays. As a result of reviewing the countless letters, interviews, and writings, Lewis suggests that there are nine characteristics that distinguish thehe general public. That message is that children used to be better able to make their own fun than today’s children and that the nature of what it means to be a child has drastically changed during our lifetimes. Essentially, Lewis’ book is a compendium of recollections from older Canadians, selections from writings by Canadian authors, and letters written by children during the period from 1900 tFo the mid-1950s at a time when play was very much a part of childhood. The book is sFreedom to Playtructured into six basic sections under the following headings: Go Outside and Play, Playing is Playing When Shared, Playing is Playing Games, Creating Their Own Equipment, Animals: Friends, Foe or Food and There Was Always Something to Do. Overall, Lewis provides the reader with 100 letters, excerpts from interviews, and anecdotes that illustrate how the nature of childhood has changed over time. Interspersed throughout are over 20 photographs that make that distinction even clearer. idyllic world of childhood in the days before television and electronic games became realities: parents regularly sent children out to play to get them out from under foot and to ensure young people got plenty of fresh air and exercise; children in rural and urban areas were free to play, to roam, and to explore and they felt free to do so; many of the games were physically active and were self-organized; toys and equipment were frequently limited but children created or modified whatever was needed to play the game; playing was often more important than winning and therefore, most available children were included; domestic animals played important roles as companions, and wild creatures were sources, of interest, food, and income; holidays were welcome breaks from daily chores and seasonal tasks; although the letter writers highlighted in this book belonged to organizations for children and youth, adults tended not to recall organizations such as The Pathfinders Club, The Maple Leaf Club, and The Young Canada Club to be a vital part of their childhood; and, children of pre-television times do not recall being bored as there was always something to do. On this final point, Lewis points out that children for whom life was difficult – or who were confined in detention camps, residential schools, or crowded inner city areas – tried to adapt what time and materials they had to suit their situation.
In fairness to Lewis, she does try to avoid the tendency to overly romanticize how life used to be and how children used to be treated. She admits that today’s children are probably more knowledgeable and better informed on many topics than were their grandparents (p. 23). She also admits that many of the games and activities discussed in the book such as hopscotch, snow angels, and skipping stones are still as popular today as they were in the past. However, in spite of these provisos, one still gets the impression that she feels that children were better off in the past.
Of the 100 anecdotes and letters, a number are particularly reflective of a time gone by. For example, Helga Erlindson’s A Trip on a Steamer written in 1911 recalls a Victoria Day excursion on Lake Winnipeg that takes an unexpected turn when the captain of the ship drops a party of girls off on an island and does not arrive until almost 12 hours later. A letter from 1944 called Boy Scout Week reminds us of the role that Victory Gardens played during the Second World War. Finally, an anecdote called Charlie Riley’s Pasture for Gopher Shoots reminds us of the perils of gopher hunting and the money that children could make in collecting such things as gopher tails, crows’ eggs and crows’ feet.
Overall, I found reading of this book to be reasonably satisfying. The introduction sets the stage well by providing the necessary context before the reader is allowed to dive into the many letters, interviews and anecdotes and the photographs add authenticity and interest. As interesting as I found the reading, however, I do feel that the book has a number of weaknesses. The most obvious for me is the organizational structure of the book. The six headings simply do not, in my mind, provide enough of a framework for conceptually organizing the book and because the individual sections lack proper introductions, one is left with the impression that more thought could have been put into its overall organization. For this reason and others, I cannot see this book being used by teachers of Social Studies other than as a general interest collection. Therefore, if readers feel like reminiscing and are looking for an easier read, this might be the book for them. If they are looking for more of a critical analysis of how childhood is different now than it was in the past, I suggest that they look elsewhere.
David Mandzuk – Faculty of Education. University of Manitoba. Winnipeg, Manitoba.