O Canada! by Isabel Barclay
Illustrated by Cecile Gagnon
Finished: Sep.9, 2009
First Published: 1964
Genre: children, non-fiction, Canadian history
Once upon a time, long ago, nobody lived in Canada.
Reason for Reading: This was our main text on Canadian history for our homeschool curriculum over the past year. Qualifies for the Canadian Challenge.
Comments: I'll start by saying this is *the* best book ever written for Grades 1-3 covering Canadian history from the beginning up to Confederation. There is nothing like it in print today, nor do I expect there ever will be as history books are not written like this anymore. As one can tell from the beginning sentence this book is written in a narrative, story telling mode and meant to be read aloud for this age group. The original intent would have been for older children to read the book themselves but today there are many other books for older children to choose from; it is the younger children for whom books are sadly not available today at this level of entertainment and information.
Starting with a brief two paragraph semi-evolutionary beginning (meaning they describe such a world without using the word) the book starts with the major distinct Indian groups pre-white man and moves chronologically through Canadian history hitting all the major points and including much detail in a book aimed at this age group. New France through the Seven Years War is extensively covered through a large portion of the book. Intertwining American history where it is relevant, the Loyalists, pioneer life and the War of 1812 come next. The Rebellion of 1837 and Confederation wrap up Canada's story nicely. It's at this point that the book takes on a choppy feel for the last nine pages. It honestly feels as if Ms. Barclay had intended to end her book here plus a conclusion and the publishers required that she include Western Canada before publishing. So the book finishes with quick scenes jumping to the settling of the west, the building of the railway, the populating of British Columbia and it's joining of Confederation, the Cariboo Gold Rush and finally a conclusion.
I always recommend this book to homeschoolers looking for something to use for Canadian history at this level as it just can't be beat. I wish someone would reprint it for the homeschool market with some editing to the conclusion which speaks of our 20th century (1960s) Canada. The main reasons I love this book are that the text is entertaining in a story-telling format, the history is not revisionist, none of today's re-thinking of whether history was right or wrong is presented, just the facts from both sides. I find the book to be very unbiased which is very refreshing and a joy to read. I've always had a copy of this book. When I was a kid I read it, I read it to my 20yo when he was the right age and now with my 8/9yo.
Unfortunately my current copy doesn't have a dust jacket to show the illustration technique which is something to be mentioned. It's the type often popular in the sixties and seventies using black and two other colours. Almost every page is illustrated, there are a few two page spreads here and there with no pictures though. The illustrations alternate; on one two page spread the colour theme is black, grey, blue (almost turquoise) and then the next spread is black, brown and orange. Something only a former child of the era will love but the drawings themselves have a folksy, primitive style to them that I enjoy.
Overall, I can't recommend the book highly enough if you are wanting a book to read to your primary level child about Canadian History, look no further. This is not a hard book to find. Copies are easily found online and if you go to enough library/school book sales in a row it won't take long to come across a copy. As soon as I moved out here my goal was to find a copy and I found one at the first annual book sale the city had that I went to.
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